Agri Business

Climate change can negatively impact one third of global food production: Study

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on May 17, 2021

A representative image.   -  Reuters

The One Earth study analyses how agriculture would be affected if emissions are left uncut.

Climate change can have a significant negative impact on global food production, according to a new research led by Aalto University.

The study published in the journal One Earth analyses how global food production will be affected if greenhouse gas emissions are left uncut.

'Our research shows that rapid, out-of-control growth of greenhouse gas emissions may, by the end of the century, lead to more than a third of current global food production falling into conditions in which no food is produced today - that is, out of safe climatic space,' explained Matti Kummu, professor of global water and food issues at Aalto University as quoted in an official release published in EurekAlert!.

According to the study, over one-third of global food production will be affected if carbon dioxide emissions continue growing at current rates.

As part of the study, researchers define the concept of safe climatic space as those areas where 95 per cent of crop production currently takes place. This is based on three climate factors- rainfall, temperature and aridity.

“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face as-of-yet unseen conditions if we collectively reduce emissions so that warming would be limited to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius,' said Kummu.

Increasingly warm climate and changes in rainfall and aridity are a significant threat to food production in South and Southeast Asia and the Sahel region of Africa. Unfortunately, these areas cannot also adapt to changing conditions.

“Food production as we know it developed under a fairly stable climate, during a period of slow warming that followed the last ice age. The continuous growth of greenhouse gas emissions may create new conditions, and food crop and livestock production just won't have enough time to adapt,' explained Doctoral Candidate Matias Heino, another primary author of the publication.

Future scenarios

The study used two future scenarios for climate change. In the first scenario, carbon dioxide emissions are cut radically, limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, while in the second scenario, emissions continue to grow unhindered.

The researchers further assessed how climate change would affect 27 of the most important food crops and seven different livestock to account for the societies' varying capacities to adapt to changes.

The threats and the effects of the same differed in countries and continents. Nevertheless, the entire food production would remain in a safe climatic space in the future in 52 of the 177 countries studied, including Finland and most other European countries.

Already vulnerable countries like Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana and Suriname will be majorly affected if emissions aren’t cut. Up to 95 per cent of current food production would remain outside of the safe climatic space. Furthermore, these countries also have much less capacity to adapt to changes brought on by climate change as compared to rich Western countries. Overall, climate change threatens 20 per cent of the world's crop production and 18 per cent of livestock production located in countries with low resilience to adapt to changes.

As per the research’s estimates, if emissions are controlled, the world's largest climatic zone of today - the boreal forest spanning across northern North America, Russia and Europe - would shrink from its current 18.0 to 14.8 million square kilometres by 2100.

Forest area

“Should we not be able to cut emissions, only roughly 8 million square kilometres of the vast forest would remain. The change would be even more dramatic in North America: in 2000, the zone covered approximately 6.7 million square kilometres - by 2090, it may shrink to one-third,” the study said as quoted in the release.

“Arctic tundra would be even worse off: it is estimated to disappear completely if climate change is not reined in. At the same time, the tropical dry forest and tropical desert zones are estimated to grow,” it added.

'If we let emissions grow, the increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation. By the end of this century, we could see more than 4 million square kilometres of new desert around the globe,' Kummu said.

'We need to mitigate climate change and, at the same time, boost the resilience of our food systems and societies - we cannot leave the vulnerable behind. Food production must be sustainable,' says Heino.

Published on May 16, 2021

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