Climate change is known to negatively affect agriculture and animal husbandry, but there is little scientific knowledge about which regions of the planet would be affected or what could be the greatest risks. New research from Aalto University assesses how much global food production will be affected if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced. The study is published in the journal A land Friday May 14.
“ Our research shows that rapid and uncontrollable growth in greenhouse gas emissions can, by the turn of the century, lead more than a third of current global food production to fall into conditions in which no no food is produced today – that is, outside of a climate-safe space, ”says Matti Kummu, professor of global water and food issues at Aalto University.
According to the study, this scenario is likely to occur if carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase at current rates. In the study, the researchers define the concept of safe climate space as the areas where 95% of crop production currently takes place, thanks to a combination of three climatic factors, precipitation, temperature and aridity.
“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face conditions as yet unseen if we collectively reduced emissions, so that warming would be limited to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius,” says Kummu.
Changes in rainfall and aridity as well as global warming particularly threaten food production in South and Southeast Asia as well as in the Sahel region of Africa. These are also areas that lack the capacity to adapt to changing conditions.
“Food production as we know it developed in a fairly stable climate, during a period of slow warming following the last ice age. Continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions can create new conditions, and food and animal production will simply not have enough time to adapt, ”says doctoral student Matias Heino, the other lead author of the publication.
Two future scenarios for climate change were used in the study: one in which carbon dioxide emissions are drastically reduced, limiting global warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius, and another in which emissions continue to grow uninterrupted.
The researchers assessed how climate change would affect 27 of the most important food crops and seven different livestock, which explains the varying capacities of societies to adapt to changes. The results show that threats affect countries and continents in different ways; in 52 of the 177 countries studied, all food production would remain in the climate safe space in the future. These include Finland and most other European countries.
Already vulnerable countries like Benin, Cambodia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana and Suriname will be hit hard if no changes are made; up to 95 percent of current food production would be outside a secure climate space. Alarmingly, these countries also have much less ability to adapt to changes induced by climate change than wealthy Western countries. In total, 20% of global agricultural production and 18% of endangered animal production are located in countries with low resilience to adapt to changes.
If carbon dioxide emissions are brought under control, researchers estimate that the largest climate zone in the world today – the boreal forest, which stretches across northern North America, Russia and the Europe – would grow from its current 18.0 million square kilometers to 14.8 million square kilometers by 2100. If we failed to reduce emissions, only about 8 million square kilometers of vast forest would remain. The change would be even more dramatic in North America: in 2000 the area covered around 6.7 million square kilometers – by 2090 it could be reduced to a third.
The arctic tundra would be even worse: it is estimated that it will disappear completely if climate change is not brought under control. At the same time, it is estimated that dry tropical forest and tropical desert areas are developing.
“If we allow emissions to increase, the increase in desert areas is particularly troubling because under these conditions almost nothing can grow without irrigation. By the end of this century, we could see over 4 million square kilometers of new desert in the world, ”Kummu says.
While the study is the first to take a holistic look at the climatic conditions in which food is grown today and how climate change will affect these areas in the decades to come, its take-home message is by no means unique: the world needs urgent action.
“We need to mitigate climate change and, at the same time, strengthen the resilience of our food systems and societies – we cannot leave the vulnerable behind. Food production must be sustainable, ”Heino says.