Climate change: IPCC report warns of looming food crisis

The report—Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability—says erratic and extreme weather, like severe droughts, floods and heat waves will affect food production across the world

By Arnab Pratim Dutta
Published: Monday 31 March 2014

Even at just 1°C of warming there are negative impacts for major crops like wheat, rice and corn; for India and China, the prediction is that stress on staple wheat crop would increase

Growing food could become harder which could lead to a food crisis says the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The apex body on climate change science released its report on March 31, 2014 in Yokohama Japan. It paints a very disturbing picture for the years to come. This report—Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability—has been prepared by the Working Group II of the IPCC and details the impacts of climate change that have already occurred, the future risks from a changing climate, and scope of reducing these risks.

Food production will be affected because of environmental stresses resulting from climate change, the report warns. Erratic and extreme weather, like severe droughts, floods and heat waves will affect food production across the world.

“Global temperature increases of ~4°C or more above late-20th-century levels, combined with increasing food demand, would pose large risks to food security globally and regionally,” the report says.

The report finds that even at just 1°C of warming there are negative impacts for major crops like wheat, rice and corn," says Lidy Nacpil, director of Jubilee South APMDD, a campaign group in the Philippines and a member of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice.

For India and China, the prediction is that the stress on staple wheat crop would increase negatively, affecting the overall food security of the continent. There is consensus that post 2030, the overall food production will decrease, but certain regions could also see a small rise in food production.

Water stress, floods

There will be extreme stress on water, says the new report. Factors such as erratic precipitation, runoff from shrinking glaciers and thawing permafrost are changing hydrological systems and “affecting water resources both in terms of quantity and quality,” says the new report. Water, both on the surface and underground, will reduce significantly with increasing green house gas concentration, leading to higher tension among competing users.

As earth gets warmer, impacts of it will begin to aggravate the world's eco-system. In a business as usual (BAU) scenario, there is a high probability that global temperatures will exceed 4°C. With every degree of warming, adapting to change will become harder. People, especially in the poor countries, will face heightened risk of submergence from riverine flooding. Those living on the coasts will find themselves losing territory to seawaters. Those dependent on marine environment will also find it difficult as ocean acidification will alter the marine ecosystem.

Impacts on human health, risks of extinction

Climate change will also affect human health, says the report. “Throughout the 21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions, especially in developing countries with low income, as compared to a baseline without climate change,” it says. Casualty from heat waves and fires will increase. Food unavailability will lead to malnutrition. There will higher occurrence of vector-borne diseases. The only positive aspect to emerge out of the report is on cold-related mortality.
The report also says that “a large fraction of both terrestrial and freshwater species face increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century, especially as climate change interacts with other stressors, such as habitat modification, over-exploitation, pollution, and invasive species”. While some species can adapt to a warmer planet, they may not be able to do it sufficiently fast to avoid extinction.

Economic losses

The economic loss from global warming is hard to calculate because of a number of factors and is often disputed, notes the report. However, the report notes that anything between 0.2 to 2 per cent loss to annual global income can be forecast in case there is a 2°C increase in temperature increase. There is not enough scientific literature to predict losses arising from temperature increase beyond 3°C, says the report.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” says Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II. “In many cases, we are not prepared for climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

Click here to access the report: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability



Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability - summary for policymakers

INFOGRAPHIC  > Measure climate change in your lifetime

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.