Climate change, food production and food security

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Photo by 9comeback

Last week we introduced a study looking at how climate change will potentially affect crop growing in sub-Saharan Africa and how extreme the changes to farming methods will need to be in order to adapt. Now several recent articles researchers explain how food and nutrition insecurity is likely to worsen in the face of climate change and how we can prevent our food production systems from undermining efforts to mitigate the long-term climate effects.

A recent study in The Lancet, building on previous research, indicates that global food supply as impacted by climate change could cause over half a million deaths by 2050, largely due to a rise in undernutrition. While it is understood, at least to some degree, that crop yields will be affected, largely adversely, by climate change, the findings that it will also affect the composition of many people’s diets is relatively novel. The study also predicts the impacts of climate on diets will surpass undernutrition as a major cause of death.

The availability of healthy foods is expected to decline under climate change with consumption of fruits and vegetables predicted to decrease by some 4% by 2050, in comparison with a scenario free of global warming. And while this decline is likely to be most severe in low and medium-income countries in the Western Pacific region, the impacts will be felt everywhere including high-income countries.

And we are already seeing the effects of climate change in Southeast Asia and Africa where droughts have increased undernutrition in children, food prices have dramatically increased and crop production declined. Obviously since the poorest households spend the highest proportion of their income on food, low food availability and increased food prices will have a substantially greater impact on them. While meeting commitments made in the Paris Agreement will go some way to minimising the effects of climate change on diets and nutrition, governments will also need policies in place to address shortfalls in both production and in consumption. [Read more…]

Our Common Future under Climate Change

By Katy Wiilson

our common futureAt the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in Paris this December, governments are expected to agree a new climate change agreement, setting the climate governance and cooperation regime for years to come. This agreement is planned to come into effect in 2020. Ahead of COP 21, the marathon process of negotiations has been bogged down in discussions of terminology and have, so far, failed to build expectations that we can expect any significant change.  After a meeting of climate change negotiators in Bonn in June resulted in little progress (only cutting down an 89 page draft text by four pages), co-chairs of the negotiation have now been given the task of making changes to the draft, which will be presented when they meet again later in July.

Ahead of the next round of negotiations, however, we will hear from the science community at the “Our Common Future under Climate Change” conference in Paris from the 7th to 10th July. The international scientific community will come together, assess and present existing knowledge, explore innovative solutions to the challenges and help prepare for the new climate agreement. [Read more…]

Farming for a better climate future

By Katrin Glatzel

While negotiators from nearly 200 countries gather in Bonn to shape the negotiating text for a new global climate change agreement to be finalised at the 21st COP in Paris in December, more than we can imagine is at stake.

UNFCCCWe are on track to reach a world that is 3°C warmer than pre-industrial levels by mid-century – which, in itself is a daunting scenario. Yet, this is not just a problem of the future –many people across the world are already experiencing the (predominantly) negative impacts of global warming. Crops, grazing land, trees and livestock are inherently affected by climatic extremes such as heat or drought. In some African countries, reductions in yield for some crops could be as high as 50% by 2020. These impacts mostly affect the millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries who own one hectare of land or less and live on less than $1 a day. These are the people most vulnerable, yet with the least capacity and resilience to adapt to climate change.

In order to secure a livelihood for the most vulnerable people, especially under a changing climate, there is an urgent need to make food security an integral part of the climate change negotiations. It is important to understand that climate change not only affects yields, but also the quality and safety of food and its delivery to consumers in both developing and developed countries.   [Read more…]

7 key discussions around the NY UN Climate Summit

imagesOn the 23rd of September 2014, heads of state and leaders in finance, business and civil society gathered in New York City for the United Nations Climate Summit 2014. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon organized the high-level meeting, asking leaders to “bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015”.

This summit was a critical step on the path towards a new climate deal at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit and ahead of the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru from the 1st to 12th of December 2014. As the world gears up for these events, we look at the key discussions and outcomes from the UN Climate Summit in New York. We also like this post – 7 charts that show why UN climate talks keep breaking down.

  1. Record temperatures

2014 saw Earth’s hottest summer with May, June and August all setting global heat records, as confirmed by scientists at NOAA and NASA. Although cooler in parts of the United States, Europe and Australia, August was a scorcher in the Pacific and Indian oceans and in Africa, and August and June were tied for the seas’ all-time highest temperature record.

  1. Peoples Climate March

As hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets on the 22nd September ahead of the summit it was clear that the international climate change movement is back and growing in force. And the general understanding of how climate change will affect people’s lives has diversified from focusing on fossil fuels alone (although in New York protestors campaigned for the UN to cut fossil fuels) to looking to its impact on food, water, health, agriculture and jobs, to name a few. Oxfam spurred its supporters into action, marching to prevent climate change exacerbating hunger. As Joern Fischer on his blog, Ideas for Sustainability, noted about the London march, “This was a march that felt different to most climate events in the past. This march surpassed all previous events in size and commitment but is clearly only the beginning of a long discussion about how future generations should live in the world.”

  1. The role of uncertainty

Despite enormous public pressure and support for mitigating climate change, there are still questions remaining regarding the science behind climate change predictions and the impacts of drastic changes. One article notes the risk that significant cuts in fossil fuel use would pose to billions of peoples’ lives. In another article the uncertainty of climate science is believed to need to be better communicated, as widespread acceptance of what is presented in say the IPCC reports can prevent meaningful academic and policy discussions. While, in the future, agreeing a new climate deal is critical, agreeing the wrong climate deal would be harmful, and so the uncertainty in our climate future and the trade-offs presented by various courses of mitigating action need further discussion. [Read more…]

World Environment Day: Tackling climate change requires systems thinking and collective action

Bn-51-MIcAAa__PYesterday’s World Environment Day, the United Nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment, focused on tackling climate change. This year’s theme is Raise your voice, not the sea level. First established in 1972, every year on 5th June countries around the world host seminars, events and environmental projects from cleaning up Kosovo to solar electric roofs in Barbados to plastic purges on the beaches of Sri Lanka. And there are the WED challenges.

This year is also the UN International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and part of the activities of WED were to raise awareness about the challenges SIDS face, their vulnerability to climate change and sea level rise and the urgent need to help protect the islands.

The message of WED is that our individual actions will aggregate into collective action with the power to transform, in this case mitigating climate change and its impacts. A draft of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report “Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change” recently released, supports this message stating that “effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently”. Emissions in one area, sector or emitted by one person have broader impacts for others. Greenhouse gas emissions largely produced in developed countries and emerging economies are putting small island states at risk, a problem requiring collective action.

The IPCC report states that without additional mitigation, global mean surface temperature increases by 2100 will be between 3.7 °C and 4.8 °C compared to pre-industrial levels (the range is 2.5 °C to 7.8 °C when including climate uncertainty). Agriculture, forestry and other land uses (AFOLU) contribute 24% of total direct GHG emissions, second only to electricity and heat production which accounts for 25% (followed by Industry at 21% and transport at 14%).

In order to increase the chances of maintaining global average temperature increases at below 2°C, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 need to be around 450ppm in 2100. Scenarios achieving this target all have reduced GHG emissions, by 40% to 70%, by the middle of the century and emissions near zero GtCO2 eq or below in 2100. Such scenarios represent significant opportunities for improving air quality, energy security, human health and ecosystem resilience but many trade-offs and co-benefits have not been identified or quantified and climate policies will need to be assessed both on their potential to help mitigate climate change and by their effects on sustainable development, poverty eradication and equity. [Read more…]

Declining crop yields and increasing agricultural emissions

ID-100148476Alongside the recent release of the UN IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, a new study, published in Nature, provides evidence that global increases in temperature of only 2°C will reduce crop yields in temperate and tropical regions from the 2030s onward.

The meta-analysis, collated and analysed by researchers at the University of Leeds, combined 1,700 published data sets for wheat, rice and maize, the largest dataset on crop responses to climate change yet. The research, taking into account currently practiced adaptation activities such as changing planting dates and using improved varieties, as well as uncertainty and the timing of impacts, found that the variability between crop yields in different places and at different times is also likely to increase with climate change, which could have a profound impact on the security of food supply.

Beyond 2050 declines in crop yields will be greater in magnitude, reductions of 25% are expected to be widespread with median crop yields to drop by 2% each decade for the rest of the century. Although crop productivity has previously been predicted to improve in Northern Europe, crop yields even under moderate future warming may decline in many places. Coupled with increasing demand for food (expected to increase 14% per decade until 2050), future food security without significant intervention looks bleak.

The clear message from the paper and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report is the urgent need for farmers to adapt to a changing climate and for all countries to seriously engage in mitigating climate change. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation recently released figures showing that greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural, forestry and fisheries sector have doubled over the last 50 years and could grow by over 30% by 2050. The majority of this increase is being seen in developing countries, with the expansion of agricultural production.

Between 2001 and 2010 emissions from crop and livestock agriculture increased 14% while emissions from land use change and deforestation declined 10%, yet more evidence that agriculture needs to be part of climate discussions. Within agriculture, enteric fermentation (methane from livestock) accounts for the largest proportion of emissions (39%) and increased 11% between 2001 and 2010. The FAO, in 2012, launched the FAOSTAT emissions database, which details the GHG emissions of agriculture, forestry and other land use activities.

With crop yields expected to decline (and already declining in many countries) and agricultural emissions appearing to be on an upwards trajectory, the former perhaps incentivising the latter, we need smarter agriculture, that is resilient to future climate change while also reducing GHG emissions, the very goal of sustainable intensification.

ID-100144969A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Climate change mitigation through livestock system transitions, discusses how climate mitigation policies can reduce emissions from the livestock sector. Authors identify much potential to mitigate climate change in livestock production systems, namely the transition from extensive to more productive systems, reducing the livestock sector’s impact on land use change. The paper also recommends emissions reductions should be targeted to the supply (rather than demand) side. Aside from this rather controversial recommendation, this paper, as with many others, identifies significant opportunities to mitigate climate change and increase food supply within the agricultural sector. Serious action on implementing the variety of adaptation and mitigation strategies at the global and local level appears to be the limiting factor in progress.

Africa’s Adaptation Gap

ID-10042579A recent technical report published by the UN Environment Programme, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and Climate Analytics investigates the impacts of climate change and the costs of adaptation in Africa. Africa’s Adaptation Gap report  is a warning to policymakers of both the implications for Africa should global mitigation activities fall short as well as the urgent need for scaling up adaptation activities and funding in this continent, a region the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report named a “vulnerability hot spot” for the impacts of climate change.

Africa is projected to experience severe climatic changes compared to historical conditions: more frequent extreme weather events; sea level rise of over one metre with global average temperature increases of 4°C by 2100; significant decreases in precipitation across many areas; a loss of biodiversity and potentially grazing area; and maize, millet and sorghum growing areas are likely to become unviable with global average temperature increases of 3°C as growing seasons shorten and optimal heat ranges are exceeded..

The report summarises the estimated costs of adaptation Africa faces under different scenarios:

  • With current emissions levels, adaptation costs will be $7 to $15 billion per year to 2020.
  • If we close the emissions gap to hold average global temperature increases to below 2°C, costs will be $35 billion per year by 2050 and $200 billion by 2070, although a large degree of uncertainty exists.
  • If we continue on our current emissions trajectory, and global average temperatures rise by 3.5-4°C by 2100, adaptation costs could be $50 billion per year by 2050 and $350 billion by 2070.

These adaptation costs will include such things as early warning systems, coastal protection, drought-resistant crops, irrigation, desalinisation and infrastructure protection, and, as the report shows, will be significant even with immediate emissions reductions. The report illustrates the critical link between developed country mitigation activities and the financial burden of adaptation in Africa, a burden that could constrain economic development. [Read more…]