Report: Staple Crop Yields Will Drop as Global Population Grows

Climate change is causing extensive damage to global agriculture. A new report warns that some of the worst impacts may be irreversible by 2030.

Green rice fields on Bali island
Oct. 21, 2021
By Paolo DeAndreis
Green rice fields on Bali island

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Climate change is affect­ing global farm­ing activ­i­ties, reduc­ing their cur­rent and future pro­duc­tion capac­ity.

While human pop­u­la­tion growth is pro­jected to con­tinue through 2050 and almost 50 per­cent more food will be needed, agri­cul­tural yields might drop or even col­lapse with harsh con­se­quences on all con­ti­nents.

Climate change will shorten the months dur­ing which the crops usu­ally pro­duce their yields, there­fore hit­ting the over­all pro­duc­tion capac­ity.- Daniel Quiggin, senior research fel­low, Chatham House

This is the sce­nario emerg­ing from the lat­est Chatham House report, the data from which show that sta­ple crop pro­duc­tion may fall by 30 per­cent in the fol­low­ing decades, impact­ing food secu­rity for hun­dreds of mil­lion peo­ple and fuel­ing price increases for bil­lions.

The Climate change risk assess­ment 2021” pre­sented to gov­ern­ments world­wide hints at the fact that with­out imme­di­ate action for sub­stan­tial green­house gas reduc­tion, the impacts on agri­cul­ture will be dev­as­tat­ing in a mat­ter of years.

See Also: 9.7 Billion Tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Meat Production Each Year

The chal­lenges come from mul­ti­ple sources and sce­nar­ios as whole regions of the world are expe­ri­enc­ing a cli­mate cri­sis that will ulti­mately hit bil­lions of peo­ple,” Daniel Quiggin, a senior research fel­low with the envi­ron­ment and soci­ety pro­gram at Chatham House, told Olive Oil Times.

As an exam­ple, dur­ing the next decade, at least 400 mil­lion peo­ple will not be able to work out­side because of the too high tem­per­a­tures,” he added. That will have a dra­matic impact on agri­cul­ture, and har­vest yields might be des­tined to fall also because of that.”

The report con­sid­ers the work­ing hours lost in 2019 and 2020 due to the Covid-19 pan­demic. It esti­mates that tem­per­a­ture increases led to the loss of at least 300 bil­lion work­ing hours in 2019 due to tem­per­a­ture increase, a 52-per­cent increase com­pared with data from 2000.

Devastating heat­waves, such as those expe­ri­enced in Australia or Siberia, are now between 10 and 600 times more likely due to the chang­ing cli­mate. At least 3.9 bil­lion peo­ple will be severely exposed to such heat­waves by 2040, result­ing in 10 mil­lion deaths each year from excess heat.

No region will be spared,” wrote the report’s authors. By 2040, major heat­waves will be expe­ri­enced each year by 50 per­cent or more of the pop­u­la­tions in West, Central, East and Southern Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, as well as Central America and Brazil.”

By 2050, more than 70 per­cent of peo­ple in every region will expe­ri­ence heat­waves each year,” the report added. Urban areas will suf­fer the great­est chal­lenges of work­a­bil­ity and sur­viv­abil­ity.”

From an agri­cul­tural stand­point, per­sis­tent droughts con­tinue to threaten crop yields world­wide, includ­ing olives, wheat and cof­fee. Researchers believe that heat­waves and droughts have caused yield decreases of up to 50 per­cent in the worst years of the last decades.

While new tech­nolo­gies and research are help­ing many farm­ers bet­ter cope with the effects of the drought, experts believe that by 2040 at least 32 per­cent of global crop­land will be affected by severe drought with enor­mous con­se­quences on global food yields.

Wheat and rice together make up 37 per­cent of global aver­age calorific intake,” the report said. By 2050, more than 35 per­cent of the global crop­land used to grow both these crops will likely be exposed to dam­ag­ing hot spells each year, caus­ing reduc­tions to yields.”

The other aspect that increas­ingly will impact agri­cul­ture in many regions is the reduced grow­ing period for plants.

Climate change will shorten the months dur­ing which the crops usu­ally pro­duce their yields, there­fore hit­ting the over­all pro­duc­tion capac­ity,” Quiggin said. Adding to this, dur­ing the short­ened grow­ing peri­ods, the crops will also be more exposed to altered weather, so that the com­bi­na­tion of mul­ti­ple fac­tors might deter­mine a sub­stan­tial decrease of farm­ing capac­ity.”

See Also: Ahead of Climate Summit, African Leaders Discuss Fate of The Continent

Synchronous yield losses of 10 per­cent or more by the top four maize pro­duc­ing coun­tries, wrote the Chatham House experts, would have dev­as­tat­ing impacts on avail­abil­ity and prices. Currently, there is a near-zero chance of this hap­pen­ing. However, over the decade of the 2040s, the risk of this increases to just under 50 per­cent.”

Current plans to coun­ter­act the impacts of cli­mate change are far from suf­fi­cient, warned the report’s authors.

If the so-called National Determined Contributions (NDCs) announced by many gov­ern­ments are enacted effec­tively, the report said there is a less than five per­cent chance of keep­ing tem­per­a­tures below 2 °C above pre-indus­trial lev­els. The pos­si­bil­ity of reach­ing the 1.5 °C tar­get set by the 2015 Paris Agreement is less than one per­cent.

If pol­icy ambi­tion, low-car­bon tech­nol­ogy deploy­ment and invest­ment fol­low cur­rent trends, 2.7 °C of warm­ing by the end of the cen­tury is the cen­tral esti­mate, rel­a­tive to pre-indus­trial lev­els, but there is a 10 per­cent chance of warm­ing of 3.5 °C,” the report warned.

These pro­jec­tions assume that coun­tries will meet their NDCs; if they fail to do so, the prob­a­bil­ity of extreme tem­per­a­ture increases is non-neg­li­gi­ble,” the report added. A global tem­per­a­ture increase greater than 5 °C should not be ruled out.”

Should NDCs stay as they are, many of the feared cli­mate change impacts will be locked in by 2040, so we actu­ally have between five and 10 years to sub­stan­tially cut the emis­sions,” Quiggin said. Many of those impacts will go beyond what many coun­tries will be able to adapt to, so mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies are essen­tial.”

Mitigation includes plans for car­bon cap­ture, energy pro­duc­tion, defor­esta­tion, soil preser­va­tion and fos­sil fuel reduc­tion, wrote the Chatham House experts.

The other front is adap­ta­tion strate­gies,” Quiggin said. Even if we entirely decar­bonized the global econ­omy in the next 10 years, we would still have to adapt. That includes sus­tain­able farm­ing prac­tices, such as imple­ment­ing cor­rect crop rota­tion pat­terns and the diver­sity of crops thus avoid­ing mono­cul­ture which are less resilient.”

Adaptation will also mean upgrad­ing irri­ga­tion facil­i­ties in the drier areas.

Still, many regions will be sub­jected to such an impact that their agri­cul­ture will not be able to adapt,” Quiggin said. In those regions, many farm­ers and agri­cul­tural work­ers will have to find new jobs because farm­ing will not be able to offer the oppor­tu­ni­ties it tra­di­tion­ally had opened to them.”

The Chatham House report will be among the data sources dis­cussed dur­ing the upcom­ing inter­na­tional cli­mate sum­mit COP26 on October 31.





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