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Climate Change Adaptation

The effects of climate change are complex and far-reaching, and while the scope, severity, and pace of future climate change effects are difficult to predict, it is clear that changes could have important outcomes for producers and on the ability of USDA to fulfill its core mission to "provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.”

Adaptation refers to the process of finding ways to prepare for and flexibly respond to changes in climate. USDA is developing a multi-pronged approach toward adaptation, including research, education, extension, risk management, and strategic planning.

OEEP's CCPO works across USDA to help ensure that the effects of climate change on working lands and rural communities are understood across the Department and that adaptation is integrated into USDA programs, policies and operations based on the most up-to-date science. OCE also provides data, tools and information to assist land managers, stakeholders and USDA agencies and mission areas with adaptation assessments, planning and implementation.

  • USDA Climate Hubs
    The USDA Climate Hubs website hosts information and resources on climate adaptation, impacts, and vulnerabilities, which can be sorted by topic or by region.
  • USDA Climate Science Plan
  • USDA's Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation (DR 1070-001)
    This Departmental Regulation from 2015 provides guidance on the establishment and periodic revision of a USDA Climate Change Adaptation Plan.
  • U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)
    The USGCRP is a 13-Federal Agency program, mandated by Congress, that coordinates Federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment, both human and natural, and their effects on society. USDA works through the USGCRP via CCPO to maximize efficiencies in Federal research and ensure that America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, natural resource managers, rural communities, and others have the best available science at their disposal to support decision-making.
  • USDA’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Plan (Full Report)
    The 2014 USDA Climate Adaptation Plan provides policy guidance on climate adaptation.The Plan presents strategies and actions to address the effects of climate change on key mission areas including agricultural production, food security, rural development, and forestry and natural resources conservation.The 2014 USDA Climate Change Adaptation Plan includes input from eleven USDA agencies and offices. It provides a detailed vulnerability assessment, reviews the elements of USDA’s mission that are at risk from climate change, and provides specific actions and steps being taken to build resilience to climate change. 
  • Forest Service Climate Change Response Framework
    The Forest Service-supported CCRF is a clearinghouse of climate adaptation resources for forestry.
  • Climate Change Resource Center
    The CCRC hosts a collection of adaptation approaches, examples, and planning tools for both agriculture and forestry.

Effects

National Climate Assessment

Agriculture, forests, natural resources, and rural communities are affected by climate change and variability in many ways. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, “Climate change has the potential to adversely impact agricultural productivity at local, regional, and continental scales through alterations in rainfall patterns, more frequent occurrences of climate extremes (including high temperatures or drought), and altered patterns of pest pressure. Risks associated with climate change depend on the rate and severity of the change and the ability of producers to adapt to changes” (source).

For forests, “a warmer climate will decrease tree growth in most forests that are water limited (for example, low-elevation ponderosa pine forests) but will likely increase growth in forests that are energy limited (for example, subalpine forests, where long-lasting snowpack and cold temperatures limit the growing season). Drought and extreme high temperatures can cause heat-related stress in vegetation and, in turn, reduce forest productivity and increase mortality. The rate of climate warming is likely to influence forest health (that is, the extent to which ecosystem processes are functioning within their range of historic variation) and competition between trees, which will affect the distributions of some species” (source).

USDA Climate Hubs Assessments

The USDA Climate Hubs Website hosts a collection of data and resources on climate impacts in the United States. See each topic for more detail.

See also the vulnerability assessments conducted by the USDA Climate Hubs. For more information on climate impacts on agriculture and forestry, see the Climate Assessments topic.