Climate change to spur crop shortages, study claims

By: News Staff
Date: Wednesday Jan. 19, 2011 6:07 AM PT
Update: The EurekAlert online news service has since removed reference to the climate change study from its website after complaints that the study made unfounded claims. Read the updated story here.

The world may be 2.4 degrees warmer by the end of this decade, and that could have deadly consequences for global food production, according to a new study overseen by Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist Osvaldo Canziani.

“The Impacts of Climate Change on Food Production: A 2020 Perspective,” was published Tuesday afternoon by an Argentina-based non-profit group called the Universal Ecological Fund released (UEF).

According to the report, by 2020 there will be a shortfall of 14 per cent for global wheat production, 11 per cent for rice and nine percent for maize. Soybeans will be the only major crop that will meet world demand, with a surplus of five per cent.

The number of people going hungry could therefore jump to 20 per cent of the world’s population from the current 14 per cent, the report estimates. The number of hungry children in the world could nearly double.

Those findings were based on a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Researchers at UEF used more recent data from United Nations bodies such as the World Meteorological Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Bank to update the IPCC’s conclusions.

What they found is that by 2020, population growth and warming temperatures would significantly cut the world’s four major food crops by the decade’s end.

Liliana Hisas, the report’s author, said she was surprised by what they found.

“For the last 20 years we’ve been talking about future generations, and ‘this is not going to happen in my lifetime’ and all sorts of other excuses not to take concrete decisions,” Hisas said.

“Hopefully this will help (us) realize that we better start doing things today, because this is happening much faster than anybody could anticipate.”

Canziani, a Nobel laureate and former co-chair of the IPCC, oversaw the report.

Unless action is taken to reverse course, changes in rainfall patterns will “significantly impact global agricultural output,” Canziani said in a statement Monday. Extreme weather will become more frequent, and temperature increases “will exacerbate the intensity of these events.”

We could see a replay of 2008, Hisas said, when food prices reached their highest levels in three decades and some food-producing countries banned agricultural exports for staples like rice.

Food prices also became a focus of recent protests in Tunisia that brought down the country’s authoritarian ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Ironically, researchers found that Canadian agriculture would fair relatively well. The changing climate would mean a higher production of all of the major crops — save for rice — north of the 49th parallel.

That falls in line with a general pattern where too much or too little rain would afflict agriculture in countries closer to the equator, while rich northern states would be more likely to benefit from the warmer temperatures.

Still, Hisas said Canadians would be affected by agricultural problems elsewhere.

“Food is something that we all relate to, especially in this globalized world where you go into the supermarket where you can find pasta from Italy and wine in France,” she said.

“We got used to that,” Hisas added. “Well this may not happen in 10 years.”


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