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Climate Crisis Will Worsen World Food Crisis And Increase Child Malnourishment

By Countercurrents.org

19 January, 2013

Climate crisis will worsen world food crisis and increase child malnutrition although many of the damages due to the crisis are avoidable. Harvests will fall dramatically while food prices set to more than double if climate crisis is not checked and developing countries are not helped to adapt farming.

Citing two new researches Damian Carrington reported [1]:

The world's food crisis, where 1 billion people are already going hungry and a further 2 billion people will be affected by 2050, is set to worsen as increasing heatwaves reverse the rising crop yields seen over the last 50 years.

Severe heatwaves, such as those currently seen in Australia, are expected to become many times more likely in coming decades due to climate change. Extreme heat led to 2012 becoming the hottest year in the US on record and the worst corn crop in two decades.

One of the researches used corn growing in France as an example. It predicts losses of up to 12% for maize yields in the next 20 years.

Slowed wheat soybean harvest increase

A second, longer-term study published on January 13, 2013 indicates that, without action against climate change, wheat and soybean harvests will fall by up to 30% by 2050 as the world warms.

"Our research rings alarm bells for future food security," said Ed Hawkins, at the University of Reading, who worked on the corn study. "Over the last 50 years, developments in agriculture, such as fertilizers and irrigation, have increased yields of the world's staple foods, but we're starting to see a slowdown in yield increases."

He said increasing frequency of hot days across the world could explain some of this slowdown. "Current advances in agriculture are too slow to offset the expected damage to crops from heat stress in the future," said Prof Andy Challinor, at the University of Leeds. "Feeding a growing population as climate changes is a major challenge, especially since the land available for agricultural expansion is limited. Supplies of the major food crops could be at risk unless we plan for future climates."

Hawkins, Challinor and colleagues examined how the number of days when the temperature rose above 32C affected the maize crop in France, which is the UK's biggest source of imported corn. Yields had quadrupled between 1960 and 2000 but barely improved in the last decade, while the number of hot days more than doubled.

Fall in maize yield

By the 2020s, hot days are expected to occur over large areas of France where previously they were uncommon and, unless farmers find ways to combat the heat stress that damages seed formation, yields of French maize could fall by 12% compared to today. Hawkins said there will be some differences with other crops in different locations, but added: "Extreme heat is not good for crops."

The second study is the first global assessment of a range of climate change impacts, from increased flooding to rising demand for air conditioning, of how cutting carbon emissions could reduce these impacts, published in Nature Climate Change.

"Our research clearly identifies the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions – less severe impacts on crops and flooding are two areas of particular benefit," said Prof Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, who led the study, published in Nature Climate Change.

One example showed global productivity of spring wheat could drop by 20% by the 2050s, but such a drop in yields is delayed until 2100 if firm action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

River flooding

River flooding was the impact which was most reduced if climate action is taken, the study found. Without action, even optimistic forecasts suggest the world will warm by 4C, which would expose about 330m people globally to greater flooding. But that number could be cut in half if emissions start to fall in the next few years.

Flooding is the biggest climate threat to the UK, with over 8,000 homes submerged in 2012.

Air conditioning

Another dramatic impact was on the need for air conditioning as temperatures rise. The energy needed for cooling is set to soar but could be cut by 30% if the world acts to curb emissions, with the benefit being particularly high in Europe. However, climate action has relatively little effect on water shortages, set to hit a billion people. Just 5% of those would avoid water problems if emissions fall.

"But cutting emissions buys you time for adaptation [to climate change's impacts]," said Arnell. "You can buy five to 10 years [delay in impacts] in the 2030s, and several decades from 2050s. It is quite an optimistic study as it shows that climate policies can have a big effect in reducing the impacts on people."

Malnourished children

About a month ago, John Vidal reported from Doha [2]

Food prices will more than double and the number of malnourished children spiral if climate change is not checked and developing countries are not helped to adapt their farming, food and water experts warned at the UN climate talks in Doha.

The UN's Committee on World Food Security said the world would need a 75-90% increase in food production to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive in 2050. But climate change could reduce yields worldwide by 5-25% over the same period.

"The poor are especially vulnerable. Climate change will increase the number of malnourished children substantially. Smallholder farmers will be particularly hard hit," said Gerald Nelson, a spokesman for the high-level panel of experts convened by the committee to report on food prospects in the coming 30 years.

Rise of food prices

Research from Oxfam suggests rice, maize and wheat prices could rise by up to 177% in the next 20 years if climate change is not checked. A combination of extreme events like the drought that affected North America this year and the Russian heatwave in 2008 could raise prices further than two decades of long-term prices, it said.

"Extreme weather means extreme prices. Our failure to slash emissions presents a future of greater food price volatility with severe consequences for the precarious lives of the people in poverty," said Tracy Carty of Oxfam.

"If developing countries are left alone to deal with the impacts of climate change, we are going to see millions of people lose their lands and livelihoods. Investing in the resilience of the poorest communities is not just a matter of justice, but a smart investment in a better collective future on this small planet."

"What we are seeing already in northern Kenya and parts of Africa is food prices skyrocketing as farmers' production declines in successive droughts," said Mohamed Adow, climate adviser to Christian Aid. "The number of people is growing, putting extra stress on food production."

A report from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and two other international research groups says many of the solutions to climate change and food production are available now, but increased investment and urgent action is needed.

"Many of the solutions to climate change in the dry areas are known," said Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA's director general. "They range from water and land management practices to improved crop varieties, and strategies for diversifying traditional crops. The best technologies serve little purpose without a strong policy environment in which they can be put into action, financed and managed."

Bolivia and other Latin American countries with strong indigenous people movements accused rich countries of trying to "commodify" nature by encouraging carbon markets in the same way as forests with the UN's REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) schemes. "It is an attack on nature and common sense that is pushing countries to commodify agriculture with carbon credits as it did with the forests through REDD+, as it intends to do with the oceans and the Earth. Agriculture provides food, give us jobs, gives us life, is the cultural, economic and social basis of our communities, our villages, our producers," said Rene Orellane, head of the Bolivian delegation at the talks. He was backed by India, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba.

"Carbon markets for agriculture could increase income and reduce emissions. Smallholder farmers can group together to reduce emissions and have a stable income," said Nelson.
But the market approach runs counter to the spiritual beliefs of indigenous peoples. "We have a growing feeling that markets are not the answer. We do not want to put a price on nature. The conference is taking developing countries further and further down the road of markets and away from practical help," said Ariel Chavez, a spokesman for the Latin American regional office of Swedish NGO Diakonia. "We are only hearing about market mechanisms in the conference. But we know that markets are volatile and risky."

Avoidable damage

Citing a research Nina Chestney [3] reported from London:

The world could avoid much of the damaging effects of climate change this century if GHG emissions are curbed more sharply, research showed on Sunday.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, is the first comprehensive assessment of the benefits of cutting emissions to keep the global temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, a level which scientists say would avoid the worst effects of climate change.

It found 20 to 65 percent of the adverse impacts by the end of this century could be avoided.

"Our research clearly identifies the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions - less severe impacts on flooding and crops are two areas of particular benefit," said Nigel Arnell, director of the University of Reading's Walker Institute, which led the study.

In 2010, governments agreed to curb emissions to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees C, but current emissions reduction targets are on track to lead to a temperature rise of 4 degrees or more by 2100.

The latest research involved scientists from British institutions including the University of Reading, the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, as well as Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

It examined a range of emissions-cut scenarios and their impact on factors including flooding, drought, water availability and crop productivity. The strictest scenario kept global temperature rise to 2 degrees C with emissions peaking in 2016 and declining by 5 percent a year to 2050.


Adverse effects such as declining crop productivity and exposure to river flooding could be reduced by 40 to 65 percent by 2100 if warming is limited to 2 degrees, the study said.
Global average sea level rise could be reduced to 30cm (12 inches) by 2100, compared to 47-55cm (18-22 inches) if no action to cut emissions is taken, it said.

Some adverse climate impacts could also be delayed by many decades. The global productivity of spring wheat could drop by 20 percent by the 2050s, but the fall in yield could be delayed until 2100 if strict emissions curbs were enforced.

"Reducing greenhouse gas emissions won't avoid the impacts of climate change altogether of course, but our research shows it will buy time to make things like buildings, transport systems and agriculture more resilient to climate change," Arnell said.

About 190 nations are aiming to sign a deal by 2015 which will legally bind countries to make ambitious emissions cuts but it will not come into force until 2020.

UN climate negotiations in Qatar in December ended with little progress on emissions cuts.
"This research helps us quantify the benefits of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees C and underlines why it's vital we stick with the U.N. climate change negotiations and secure a global legally binding deal by 2015," said Edward Davey, Britain's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.


[1] guardian.co.uk, “Global food crisis will worsen as heatwaves damage crops, research finds”, Jan 13, 2013,

[2] guardian.co.uk, “Climate change will mean more malnourished children, experts warn”, Dec 5, 2012,

[3] Reuters, “Climate Change Study: Emissions Limits Could Avoid Damage By Two-Thirds”, 01/13/2013. The study can be viewed at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1793




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