Skip to main content

Global Research Alliance Launched at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

Dec 16, 2009

Today in Copenhagen, agricultural research took center stage at the United Nations Climate Change Conference when Ministers from 17 countries and I launched a Global Research Alliance that will help us better understand how agriculture can help reduce greenhouse gases while also growing more food.  USDA will commit up to $90 Million over four years towards this scientific Alliance that we hope will broaden our existing research networks and build new ones.

While the Alliance originally was developed in close cooperation between New Zealand and the U.S., other countries have eagerly embraced this opportunity to work together to make the world’s agricultural system part of the solution to climate change. The Alliance will bring together our nations’ best agricultural scientists to develop the science and technologies farmers around the world need to reduce greenhouse gases and yet ensure agriculture will continue to meet the world’s growing needs for food, feed, fiber, and biofuels.

(Plant physiologist Jack Morgan (left) and soil scientist Ron Follett (right) discuss research projects at ARS GRACEnet sites across the United States while physical science technician Ed Buenger conducts mass spectrophotometer analysis of soil samples for carbon and nitrogen.)
(Plant physiologist Jack Morgan (left) and soil scientist Ron Follett (right) discuss research projects at ARS GRACEnet sites across the United States while physical science technician Ed Buenger conducts mass spectrophotometer analysis of soil samples for carbon and nitrogen.)

The Alliance will focus on improving the measurement and estimation of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage in different agricultural systems around the globe. These collaborative efforts will help develop consistent methods to measure and estimate greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage and improve the monitoring of mitigation efforts which are essential to reducing the impacts of climate change and demonstrating the effectiveness of our greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

Through this Alliance each nation will be able to bring its unique capabilities and expertise to bear on limiting the buildup of gases that are causing climate change.   The Alliance also offers opportunities for capacity building and training of scientists; and welcomes new members.  Through partnerships among researchers in participating countries the Alliance will develop new knowledge and technologies that farmers and other land and natural resource managers can use to mitigate greenhouse gases.  This includes cost-effective and accurate ways of measuring greenhouse gas emissions and carbon stored in soil; new farming practices that reduce emissions and increase carbon storage in farmland in different countries; and farming methods that sustain yields while helping to mitigate climate change.

Alliance members all recognize the important link between food security and climate change. We also recognize that climate change is an enormous issue for agriculture that requires an unprecedented global effort. The world’s food and agricultural system is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and faces significant challenges in meeting increasing global food demand.  Climatic stresses could have real consequences on food production, dramatically affecting the yields of staple food crops, resulting in scarcity and threatening people's livelihoods, particularly in developing nations. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute suggests that rice and wheat yields in developing nations could decrease as much as 19% and 34% respectively by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

Using closed vented chambers, biological science aide Rochelle Jansen (right) and soil scientist Jane Johnson collect gas emissions from soil. Samples will be analyzed for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane with a gas chromatograph.Soil scientist Ron Follett examines a soil profile beneath a native grassland site near Woodward, Oklahoma, before collecting samples for soil carbon analysis.

We also know that agriculture contributes around 15% to global greenhouse gas emissions and that agriculture and forestry have unique capabilities that can help off-set greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural and forested lands have enormous potential to store additional carbon offering new economic opportunities for farmers and rural communities everywhere.  Agriculture has the opportunity to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon storage by improving efficiency and productivity of agricultural systems through improved management practices and technologies. These improvements also would help build the resilience and adaptive capacity of the world’s food production systems and make them more sustainable while meeting the increasing demand for food. President Obama has made climate change one of his top domestic priorities through policies advancing clean energy and by engaging the international community; and I have made it a top priority, along with global food security, for agriculture and ag research.

Through this Alliance forged today, agriculture will have a unique opportunity to make a real difference in finding solutions to two of the most difficult challenges the world faces today, global climate change and food security. I look forward to working with the other Alliance members to develop partnerships with farmer organizations, the private sector, international research institutions, and others to enhance our research efforts to bring practical solutions for climate change mitigation to the world’s farmers.

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Trade