Changing Climate, Changing Food Supply

Changing Climate, Changing Food Supply

The IPCC's latest report shows how climate change is already wreaking havoc on our global food system. The statistics are sobering: yields of the world's big three staple crops -- corn, wheat, and rice -- have fallen 5.3 % since 1961 and may fall another 10-25% for each degree of warming above 1.1 degrees Celsius. And while the human population has tripled between the years 1930 and 2010, the amount of edible fish in the oceans has dropped 4.1%.

IPCC: Recording of the IPCC Press Conference 2022, March 1, 2022.

NASA: Climate Change Could Affect Global Agriculture Within 10 Years, November 1, 2021.

Cornell University: Climate change reduced farming productivity by 21% since 1961, Apr 1, 2021.

Why This Matters

Food shortages from climate change will intensify global instability. We're already seeing this happen. Since Russia has invaded Ukraine, global wheat prices have gone up to their highest prices since the 2010s, when extreme weather stunted wheat production.

This instability has also hit US food supply. Last year's Hurricane Ida caused at least $584 million in damage to Louisiana's agriculture. Meanwhile, the derecho and drought that hit Iowa last year destroyed $802 million in corn, soybeans, and pastures; and drought conditions in the West have devastated California’s Central Valley, a particularly productive farming region.

CBS: What the megadrought means to the American West, July 18, 2021.

VICE: Water Crisis - A Global Problem That's Getting Worse | Planet A, November 29, 2021.

What's Next?

Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns may make places like Siberia and northern Canada good for farming, whereas the Global South getting drier and hotter will make for conditions less amenable to food production. People farming in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras have already come up against unusual droughts. A recent report found that a 2-degree Celsius increase in temperature would destroy small-scale farms in Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, which combined, produce one-third of the world's food supply.

DW: The future of farming in Africa - Fighting climate change and conflict, May 29, 2021.

But we can still prevent the worst-case scenario. The authors suggest creating resiliency by diversifying farmlands through crop rotation or combining crops with livestock, forestry, or fisheries. The most important step the world can take limiting its use of fossil fuels.

"To really avoid mounting losses [in food production], we need urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Rachel Bezner Kerr, a lead author on the report's chapter on food systems, told Mother Jones. Every small increase in warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, we’ll face a significantly higher risk of severe impacts."

The Economist: See what three degrees of global warming looks like, October 30, 2021.