Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Famine or Feast: Climate Change and the Future of Food Production

[Harvard] It is the year 2080. As climate change continues, unhindered by weak regulations and international disagreement, temperatures have risen several degrees Fahrenheit. In tropical and arid areas, water is in short supply. In other parts of the world, heavy rainfall causes devastating floods. The rate of extreme weather events has increased — catastrophic natural disasters seem to be almost a normal part of life. Food insecurity has soared; advances against hunger in developing countries have been all but erased. Yet the United States and Europe are growing richer: an increase in temperature has spurred crop growth in their temperate regions, and yields are rising. Developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are forced to rely on developed countries, which have little incentive to reduce their own emissions, for aid. As international inequity grows, so do political tensions.
Consider another case. It is the year 2080. Concerned about the effects of climate change, governments of developing countries, assisted by international committees, have incorporated climate considerations into national policy. Food producers, from major corporations to family farms, have adapted to changing conditions with improved packaging, diversification, and transportation. Trade has kept food prices relatively stable, and Aid for Trade programs have helped boost economies while regulating carbon emissions. Developed countries, recognizing both the benefits of these policies and their own vulnerability to climate change, have made a commitment to cooperation. While 2080 does not look like 2016, international trade, foreign aid, and bilateral and multilateral partnerships have helped the world escape the most devastating effects of climate change.
Neither of these scenarios is likely to occur exactly as described; the future may fall somewhere between them. However, climate change will almost certainly have significant effects on global food production. The most detrimental impacts will occur in developing countries, as a result of their economic reliance on climate-sensitive sectors, limited capacity to respond to changes, and geographic conditions, which will worsen inequality. Meanwhile, in temperate areas of developed countries, food yields could actually increase in the short term. However, climate effects will reduce the quality and safety of food in these areas. Adaptive measures will be difficult and costly, requiring significant international financing and a cohesive global plan. Ultimately, though, if nations recognize the possible consequences and their own stakes in changing them, these measures have the potential to successfully mitigate the effects of climate change.
According to the International Food and Agricultural Trade Policy Council (IPC), climate change has five major consequences that universally alter food production. The magnitude of these consequences can vary with location; some negatively impact the availability of food, while others can actually increase crop yields, despite their detrimental effects on other aspects of life. First, climate change causes changes in temperature, which in turn affects plants, animals, pests, and the water supply in a variety of ways. Second, changes in precipitation patterns also affect the water supply, which then alters plant growth. Third, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide directly affect crop yields as well; carbon dioxide acts as fertilizer, increasing the productivity of some plants, but also allowing weeds to grow more quickly. Fourth, climate change leads to extreme weather, which can have catastrophic consequences for agriculture and transportation systems. Finally, a rising sea level can lead to flooding and reduce the availability of arable land.
As a result, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, climate change will likely have a major impact on international markets and food prices. Climate change increases variability in crop and livestock yields because it leads to extreme weather and alters precipitation patterns. In turn, this causes uncertainty in production totals, which can affect domestic and international markets. Global food prices decreased steadily throughout the second half of the twentieth century, but they have been increasing since 2000, according to the 2015 Food Security Assessment of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This increase can be partially attributed to the detrimental effects of and the uncertainty caused by climate change. Read More