Climate change: One third of global food production could be under threat

·2-min read
Research suggests that climate change could threaten one-third of global food production.

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, food production in one third of the world's agricultural regions could be under threat from climate change by the end of the century, a new study warns.

According to a Finnish study, published in the One Earth journal and led by researchers at Aalto University, large regions are at risk of being pushed into climate conditions in which no food is grown if greenhouse gases continue growing at current rates. The researchers define the concept of "safe climatic space" as the zones where 95% of crop production currently takes place, thanks to a combination of three climate factors: rainfall, temperature and aridity.

However, if temperatures rise by around 3.7°C, 31% of global food production could be forced outside this "safe climatic space" by 2081-2100, notes The Guardian. And while a rise in temperatures may increase agricultural production in northern regions of the planet, this is unlikely to compensate for major losses in production in southern countries, the study finds.

"There is just not enough space for food production to move -- we are already at the limits," Matti Kummu, professor of global water and food issues at Aalto University, explained to The Guardian.

To make these predictions, the researchers analyzed the impact of climate change on 27 of the most important food crops and seven different types of livestock worldwide. The researchers also took into account societies' varying capacities to adapt to changes.

Reduced food production, increased water scarcity

According to their observations, the zones at greatest risk of being pushed out of "safe climatic space" are located in countries like Benin and Cambodia (where over 95% of current food production would be under threat), as well as Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Niger and Sierra Leone (over 85%).

In total, 20% of the global crop production and 18% of livestock production under threat is located in countries with low resilience to adapt to change. Many regions are also likely to face increased water scarcity, according to the researchers.

However, if global warming can be limited to 1.5°C to 2°C (in line with the objectives set by the Paris Agreement), just 5% to 8% of global food production zones would be threatened -- a significant reduction on the estimated 31% if global CO2 emissions continue at their current rate, according to the research.

"Future solutions should be concentrated on actions that would both mitigate climate change and increase resilience in food systems and societies," concludes the study, which adds to the body of scientific literature sounding the alarm on risks of food shortages linked to climate change.

Léa Drouelle