LONDON — The future of food is troubling.
According to a report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), almost a third of cultivated fields and livestock ranges worldwide will be unsuitable for food production by the end of this century if global warming emissions are not drastically reduced.
Simultaneous crop failures in the world’s breadbaskets and livestock deaths from extreme heat are just some of the disasters that could befall the global food system by 2050 as the planet heats up. Such scenarios would drive up prices and put an additional 80 million people at risk of starvation.
“The future looks bleak if we don’t act,” said Rachel Bezner Kerr, IPCC lead author and global development researcher at Cornell University. “No region will be spared.”
AT THE FARM
Scientists say the worst effects of climate change would begin to kick in if global temperatures rise more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. After having already warmed by 1.1°C, the planet should reach the threshold of 1.5°C within two decades.
The UN report released on Monday looked broadly at the many consequences of climate change, from unlivable cities to declining economies. But its outlook for the future food supply was particularly dire.
World food production continues to increase, but not as fast as in the past. Climate change has already stunted production growth by around 21% over the past six decades, the report says – at a time when demand is rising with rising populations.
Heavy rains, high temperatures, poor soil quality, an increase in pests such as locusts and a decrease in beneficial pollinators such as bees will stumble grain supplies. Yields of corn, rice and wheat are expected to drop 10-25% for each degree of warming.
Farms could also face huge labor shortages by 2100, with up to 250 more days a year becoming unusable in some areas unless climate change is contained.
Tropical and subtropical countries would see losses of up to $22 billion a year in dairy and $38 billion in beef by 2100 as heat stress reduces herds, the report said.
Hot or humid regions, including the Sahel, the Amazon Basin and Southeast Asia, would suffer the most.
“Living in the Philippines, I’ve seen how tropical cyclones, floods and drought can lead to a severe lack of nutritious food on the table,” said Rodel Lasco, IPCC author and scientist with the National Commission on Climate Change. climatic. “The most affected are the poorest sectors of society.”
IN THE SEA
The impacts are not limited to land. Marine heat waves, ocean acidification, salt water infiltrating freshwater areas, and harmful algal blooms are wreaking havoc on fish and other seafood.
Fish currently accounts for around 17% of global meat consumption and is expected to increase. But global fishing yields have declined by 4.1% due to climate change between 1930 and 2010, according to the IPCC report, with some regions, such as the North Sea and the Iberian coast, recording losses of up to 35%. %.
As global temperatures continue to rise, this trend is expected to continue.
As food productivity declines, feeding the world will become more difficult.
When governments are alerted that crops are in danger, they typically turn to “green revolution techniques of using fertilizers, machinery and large monocultures to boost production,” said Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems. not involved in the IPCC report. “But that’s clearly not the way to go.”
The report highlights agricultural methods that coexist with nature to increase production, such as the use of agroforestry – the practice of planting crops among trees – or community gardens. Weeding out meat and dairy diets would also make a positive difference.
But containing climate change is essential. “If the planet continues to warm beyond 2°C,” Lasco said, “the trade-offs will be more painful.” — Gloria Dickie/Reuters