New Report Says Climate Change Brings Big Risk For Southern Agriculture

Jul 29, 2015

A Wall Street-based nonprofit initiative funded and chaired by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Clinton administration Treasurer Hank Paulson released a report Tuesday that says Arkansas’ soybean production could decline by 25% due to warmer temperatures caused by climate change.

The so-called Risky Business Project, billed as a non-partisan initiative chaired by Bloomberg, Paulson and Tom Steyer, released similar reports today across the country citing research on what a warmer planet would mean for Arkansas, the Southeast and other regions of the U.S.

The report, called “Come Heat and High Water: Climate Risk in the Southeastern U.S. Texas,” finds that, across the Southeast, the average number of days above 95 degrees Fahrenheit is likely to increase from an average 9 days per year to up 62 days per year by mid-century. By the end of this century, this number will likely increase to 124 days per year, the report says.

“The Risky Business Southeast report drives home the reality that we must deal with climate risk before it’s too late,” said Paulson, co-chair of the climate change project. “From more extreme heat that threatens labor productivity and crop yields in the agriculture sector to storm surges that could imperil infrastructure and manufacturing, which is driving new growth in the region, we face mounting risk to the economy and our way of life. Business and government leaders must face the fact that our current course is unsustainable.”

According to the report, commodity crops are likely to face severe yield declines with adaptation by farmers. Over the next 5 to 25 years, the Southeast will likely see losses in corn yields of up to 21%, and in soybean yields of up to 14%. By the end of the century, these crops will take an even bigger hit: corn yields will likely decrease by up to 86%, and soybean yields will likely decrease by up to 76%.

States that depend heavily on agriculture, like Arkansas, stand to be particularly affected, the report said. Climate change risks that stand to impact Arkansas include:

· Absent significant agricultural adaptation, corn yields in Arkansas will likely decrease by up to 33% by 2020-2039 and by up to 59% in the following 20 years–sharper likely declines in corn yields than any other state.
· Arkansas is one of the nation’s largest soybean producers, with a 2012 crop covering nearly a tenth of the state’s land area and worth nearly $1.8 billion. But that output will likely drop by up to 20% in the next 5-25 years.
· By mid-century century, heat-related labor productivity declines across all sectors in Arkansas will likely cost the state economy up to $800 million each year, with a 1-in-20 chance that the cost to the economy could exceed $1.2 billion.
· By mid-century, Arkansas’ additional heat-related deaths due to climate change are likely to kill as many as 550 each year, exceeding the number of auto fatalities that the state suffered in 2013.

The report follows a campaign pledge by Hillary Clinton on Sunday to set two “bold national goals” to combat climate change. The Democratic presidential candidate promised that if she’s elected president, she would set the U.S. on a path toward producing enough clean renewable energy to power every home in America within a decade.

She also pledged to bring the total number of solar panels installed nationwide to more than half a billion before the end of her first term, her campaign said.

Also on Monday, the White House hosted host 13 of the largest companies from across the American economy to take a stand with the Obama Administration to launch the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

The companies, which included Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, Apple and Walmart, represented more than $1.3 trillion in revenue in 2014 and a combined market capitalization of at least $2.5 trillion.

Despite the report, the debate on climate change in Arkansas still has some who believe many of the claims are overblown.

In a recent interview with Talk Business & Politics, Arkansas Public Service Chairman Ted Thomas expressed very strong views about the climate change debate and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan mandate to cut carbon emissions. He said while there is some evidence of human contribution to increasing temperatures, “I also believe this is the wrong question to ask.

“The real question is whether humans can lower the temperature and if so, what is the cost?” Thomas said. “The first question that needs to be answered is what must be done to lower the temperature of the earth by one degree, and at what price.

“Until that question can be answered, the science is incomplete,” he said of the ongoing climate change debate.