Background: Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) addresses the challenge of meeting the growing demand for food, fibre and fuel, despite the changing climate and fewer opportunities for agricultural expansion on additional lands. CSA focuses on contributing to economic development, poverty reduction and food security; maintaining and enhancing the productivity and resilience of natural and agricultural ecosystem functions, thus building natural capital; and reducing trade-offs involved in meeting these goals. Current gaps in knowledge, work within CSA, and agendas for interdisciplinary research and science-based actions identified at the 2013 Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (Davis, CA, USA) are described here within three themes: (1) farm and food systems, (2) landscape and regional issues and (3) institutional and policy aspects. The first two themes comprise crop physiology and genetics, mitigation and adaptation for livestock and agriculture, barriers to adoption of CSA practices, climate risk management and energy and biofuels (theme 1); and modelling adaptation and uncertainty, achieving multifunctionality, food and fishery systems, forest biodiversity and ecosystem services, rural migration from climate change and metrics (theme 2). Theme 3 comprises designing research that bridges disciplines, integrating stakeholder input to directly link science, action and governance. Outcomes: In addition to interdisciplinary research among these themes, imperatives include developing (1) models that include adaptation and transformation at either the farm or landscape level; (2) capacity approaches to examine multifunctional solutions for agronomic, ecological and socioeconomic challenges; (3) scenarios that are validated by direct evidence and metrics to support behaviours that foster resilience and natural capital; (4) reductions in the risk that can present formidable barriers for farmers during adoption of new technology and practices; and (5) an understanding of how climate affects the rural labour force, land tenure and cultural integrity, and thus the stability of food production. Effective work in CSA will involve stakeholders, address governance issues, examine uncertainties, incorporate social benefits with technological change, and establish climate finance within a green development framework. Here, the socioecological approach is intended to reduce development controversies associated with CSA and to identify technologies, policies and approaches leading to sustainable food production and consumption patterns in a changing climate.