Cape Town - Climate change will have far-reaching impacts on food security - not only at the farm level but on the entire food chain from farm to fork, according to an international report released at COP21 climate talks in Paris.
The report, published under the auspices of the US Global Change Research Programme, warned that warmer temperatures and altered rainfall threatened food production on farms, threatened disruption of transportation systems, food storage and food safety.
Because of this, the progress by world governments over the last few decades towards improving food security would be difficult to maintain.
One of the authors, Claudia Tebaldi, said in a statement that if the world continued on a path of high greenhouse gas emissions, “there is no way around the fact that climate change is going to be a primary challenge for producing and distributing food. If society lowers emissions, climate change will still be a stress on on food security, but other factors such as socioeconomic conditions could be more critical.”
The report points out that food security - the ability of people to get sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food - would be affected by many factors other han climate change, including advances in technology, population increase, the distribution of wealth and changes in eating habits.
Researchers found that the impact of climate change on crop and livestock productivity would be larger for tropical and subtropical regions such as Africa and south Asia, with regional variations.
Wealthy populations in temperate regions were less at risk, and some of these regions may even see productivity increase, partly because of warmer temperatures and increased rainfall
“However, if society continues to emit more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that cause climate change, even those regions will face damaging outcomes during the second half of this century,” the report said.
The risks to food security would increase with a faster rate of climate change. Researchers said in a worst-case scenario, based on high greenhouse gas concentrations, high population growth and low economic growth, the number of people at risk of undernourishment would increase by 178 million by 2080. Today’s figure is around 805 million.
“This would reverse recent gains, as the number of people at risk of undernourishment has dropped from around one billion since the early 1990s,” the report said.
Co-author Brian O’Neill said changes in society and changes in climate would both be critically important to food security in the next few decades.
“This means we have to do a better job of anticipating possible changes in income, governance, inequality and other factors and do a better job of understanding how they interact with food security and climate change,” O’Neill said.