Skip to main content

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Highlights Links Between Climate Change and Global Food Safety at Copenhagen Talks

Posted by Chris Mather is Communications Director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Health and Safety Food and Nutrition Trade
Dec 11, 2009

It’s apparent as you speak to the Danes here in Copenhagen that this city, and all of Denmark has a lot on the line when it comes to the issue of climate change.  No part of this country is far from the sea, and climate change and a rising sea level combined could alter living conditions substantially in the not-too-distant future.  There is also a large agricultural sector here and much of the farm industry is based on the cooperative model, so climate change poses a significant local economic concern.

It was my privilege to accompany Agriculture Secretary Vilsack as he attended the climate change talks today and he was clear in his address to the estimated 300 attendees that there is an important link between global climate change and food insecurity.  He said that the challenges are daunting and will require a shared vision and effort if we are to make progress.

Food insecurity is a real concern.  Recent estimates from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization show that for the first time in human history, more than a billion people around the world experience chronic hunger.  Global food demand is expected to grow more than 50 percent by 2030 as the global population approaches 9 billion.

In addition to increased demand, agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate factors including higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, droughts and floods. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that rice and wheat yields in developing nations could fall by as much as 19 and 34 percent by mid-century because of climate change, so we have a combination of population increases that will potentially reduce the amount of tillable land, changing weather and rainfall patterns and an increased frequency of extreme events.

Secretary Vilsack told the attendees that we are working to take action to address the impacts of climate change and have made a long term commitment to eliminating food insecurity.  The key is putting our commitment into action, not just at the national level but at the village and farm level.  We are confident, the Secretary said, that we will succeed in making agriculture an important tool in eliminating the devastation caused by hunger and in combating global climate change.

Recently, at the G-8 Summit, world leaders committed to increasing international assistance for agricultural development to $20 billion over the next three years and President Obama and the U.S. have committed to providing at least $3.5 billion over that period.  For more information on the United States’ involvement in the Copenhagen meetings visit the White House blog.