A relentless series of destructive extreme weather events last year has staggered farmers and taken a toll on state governments around the country. From Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hitting parts of the south to droughts and wildfires in the Midwest to heatwaves in the West, farmers and rural communities are struggling to recover.
It is difficult to attribute any single weather event to climate change, but the rise in the number of extreme weather events, and the increase in their severity, are consistent with what the science tells us to expect from climate change. This year is on track to be one of the costliest in terms of weather-related damage in American history, consistent with the long-term upward trend in the number of extreme weather events costing more than one billion dollars, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA).1
State governments are finding themselves on the front lines of responding to climate change, including the immediate and long-term effects on agriculture. These climate-related effects drain state government budgets and cause enormous financial and emotional harm to farmers and rural communities.
The severity of climate-related impacts will depend largely on how our farming systems respond to changes in local conditions. Climate adaptation plans, when implemented, can lower costs for local governments and lower risks for farmers and agriculture-related businesses—and potentially create new markets for businesses and farmers. The urgency to act on climate change is leading governments and businesses all over the world to develop climate adaptation plans.
At the international level, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends that climate adaptation planning be place- and context-specific, with no single approach for reducing risks across all settings. In the U.S., the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL) has been a leader in promoting state-based climate adaptation, because no two states or communities will experience climate change in exactly the same way.