While funds for aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reductions have begun to be made available through the cap-and-trade program under AB 32, we have yet to see any significant actions taken to address the challenge of adapting to climate change impacts.
But in recent weeks, state agencies have begun laying the groundwork for their efforts to help gird California’s businesses, residents, and environment from the impacts of extreme weather and shifting climate trends.
In a series of reports, plans, and research initiatives being launched in the coming months, the vulnerability of the agriculture sector is being discussed front and center.
CalCAN has been closely tracking these efforts and sharing our input with the relevant state agencies. This is a crucial time to help shape the conversations about agricultural adaptation planning in California.
‘Safeguarding California’ Report Improved
The California Natural Resources Agency recently released its final ‘Safeguarding California’ update to the 2009 Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which had been released in draft form late last year. This document, along with a few others mentioned below, will guide agencies’ work on issues of climate adaptation over the next several years.
CalCAN is pleased to note that the final Plan incorporates a number of our suggestions, which better recognize the diversity of agricultural systems in the state, the role of sustainable and organic agricultural practices, and the contributions of technical assistance providers such as the Resource Conservation Districts and UC Cooperative Extension.
The final Plan also clarifies and elaborates upon the connection between farmland conversion and cumulative climate impacts. It highlights the drastic loss of funding for land conservation programs in recent years. We believe that the continued loss of farmland will affect the viability of California agriculture in future decades as climate-related stressors – such as increased water scarcity – begin to be felt more strongly.
The Agriculture chapter of the Safeguarding California Plan presents a fairly comprehensive view of the myriad issues facing California agriculture. It outlines a way forward that builds upon existing programs and policies, and we think it is a good start to this discussion.
Adaptation Research Agenda Being Formed
The Natural Resources Agency is also coordinating the state’s Fourth Climate Assessment, which will allocate $5 million to evaluate the state’s vulnerabilities to climate change as well as possible management actions to address its impacts.
The Assessment is slated to include quite a few research projects [pdf] related to agriculture, touching on diverse issues including weather prediction tools, farmland and rangeland conversion, water use efficiency and conservation, soil management and fertility, and the economic costs of adaptation.
The Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), CalRecycle, the Natural Resources Agency, and the State Water Resources Control Board all plan to spearhead research projects on these topics.
Importantly, funding for agriculture projects has been fast-tracked in the first round and first tier of research funding under the Fourth Climate Assessment. This preferential treatment is indicative of the urgency in identifying climate change impacts to agriculture along with workable solutions, as was highlighted in CDFA’s ‘Climate Change Consortium for Specialty Crops’ last year.
The inter-agency Climate Action Team’s ‘California Climate Change Research Plan’ [pdf], recently released in draft form, takes a longer-term view of the research needed to achieve climate goals. It, too, spotlights practices to build soil organic matter, farmland conservation, and water use efficiency as areas to invest in research and project development for both climate adaptation and mitigation.
Getting Adaptation Right
Scientific studies increasingly show that soil building, water stewardship, and on-farm biodiversity can provide significant adaptation advantages; we would like to see greater acknowledgement of these benefits as planning moves forward.
We have stressed the important role to be played by technical assistance providers, such as Resource Conservation Districts and UC Cooperative Extension, in helping farmers adapt to climate change effects by using the best available farm management practices.
On Tuesday, August 19th, CalCAN organized a panel at the California Adaptation Forum in Sacramento, featuring speakers from the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and Full Belly Farm. We look forward to sharing the results of that conversation with you soon, and hope you will continue to engage in this important dialogue with us.