Slowing Climate Change Is Necessary to Protect 33% of Global Food Supply

The battle to slow climate change comes with many benefits to the planet and human health. Now, new research says it may be key to preventing food loss.

Countries already vulnerable to climate change could see increased losses in key food crops as a result of global warming, new research finds.

According to a study published in the journal One Earth, climate-vulnerable countries such as Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana and Suriname, could see major losses amongst 27 of the most important food crops.

“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,” says Doctoral Candidate Matias Heino, lead study author.

Prior to this research, there’s been little exploration into which areas would be most impacted by climate change. The new data look at how CO2 and other emissions will affect global food production. And for the most part, much of our staple crops are safe in the immediate future. But, according to the researchers, prolonged exposure to emissions threaten a growing number of people across the globe.

“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,” says Matti Kummu, professor of global water and food issues at Aalto University.

‘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,’ says Kummu.

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Climate Change Compromises Crops

Regions most in danger span South and Southeast Asia as well as the Sahel region of Africa. The researchers note that these areas face a threat from climate change of 95 percent of current food production. This would impact 20 percent of the world’s crop production and 18 percent of livestock.

Climate change’s impact stretches to all corners of the planet. According to the Aalto University research, failure to cut emissions by 2100 would result in a loss of 10 million square kilometers of the boreal forest across Russia, Europe, and North America. Currently standing at 18 million sqaure kilometers, controling CO2 emissions would prevent the loss of more than six million square kilometers.

Other areas wouldn’t be so lucky, the researchers note; the Arctic tundra is poised to disappear as tropical dry forests and desert zones expand.

The research comes on the heels of other data that found one-third of emissions come from food, predominantly livestock production.

“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 says.

‘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,” says Heino. “Food production must be sustainable.”

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