No industry in the United States or around the world is more vulnerable to a changing climate than agriculture. Simply put: it’s an outdoor industry. It’s raising animals. It’s growing crops. And it’s very dependent on cooperative weather for its success. Like all industries, agriculture has its supply and demand challenges, but in no other industry does the weather dictate the survival or failure of individual producers. If the United States plans to successfully lead on climate change at COP21 in Paris this week, then we must understand that failure to reach a climate change agreement means failure for farmers, in the United States and worldwide.    

Climate change causes uniquely severe and unpredictable weather.  This isn’t just bad for farmers—it’s harmful for everyone. Catastrophic weather patterns lead to farm failures, food shortages, and price volatility. These issues hit the most vulnerable farmers in poor- and middle-income countries the hardest, but producers in the United States are not immune. The supply chains that stock American grocery stores extend to all continents, and American farmers, too, fail when floods or drought strike their land—a fact leaders in the agriculture community and Washington should not forget.  Failure to reach an agreement in Paris at COP21 would mean a continued, growing disaster for farmers and food supplies across the world.  


Beyond farmers, the stability of entire nations depends on productive, sustainable farms. In 2008, when drought, among other factors, caused global food prices to spike, at least 30 countries fell prey to civil unrest. In Syria alone, drought in the middle of the last decade turned more than a million farmers into internal refugees, beginning the civil instability that some observers argue sparked the ongoing Syrian civil war.  

But Syria is not unique. Across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, and other desert regions, climate change means fewer and less predictable rains and higher temperatures. This means more failed farms. More food insecurity. Less civil stability. The relationship between volatile weather, volatile food supplies, and volatile societies is clear—and as climate change worsens, food security around the world is threatened, and with it, the stability of nations.  

In California, drought has put the state’s $54 billion agriculture industry on life support—aquifers are draining so rapidly the ground is literally sinking. On the Plains, America’s breadbasket, the Ogallala aquifer is dropping by two feet annually—in Kansas, if current dry conditions persist, agriculture will outpace water supplies as soon as 2040.  Climate change is bigger than drought, though: this spring alone, Indiana farmers lost $300 million in crops to flooding. If climate change is not properly addressed, the Midwest can likely expect wetter growing seasons and more torrential rains in the years to come.  

The implications of climate change are enormous, and the United States must lead for the world in acting to adapt and mitigate these changes. To do our part, we co-chaired a report from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2014 that examined ways to achieve food security in the face of climate change. Our top finding then remains our top recommendation now: make agriculture central to any agreement on climate change.  

For COP21 Paris to be a success, and for American farmers to thrive long into the future, the United States must lead on climate change and must see to it that Paris ends in an actionable agreement. Likewise, the US agriculture community and consumers alike ought to support efforts to mitigate climate change. It is critical to ensuring that the future of agriculture—in the United States and around the world— thrives.

Bereuter served in the House from 1979 to 2004. He is president emeritus of the Asia Foundation. Glickman served in the House from 1977 to 1995. He was secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001. The two are co-chairs of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a non-partisan Chicago-based think tank, and co-chaired the Chicago Council report, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate.