What is agriculture?
Climate change will have far-reaching consequences for agriculture that will disproportionately affect poor and marginalized groups  who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and have a lower capacity to adapt. Climate-related crop failures, fishery collapses and livestock deaths already cause economic losses and undermine food security, and these are likely to become more severe as global warming continues. A recent study estimates the annual costs of adapting to climate change in the agricultural sector to be over US$ 7 billion .
Agriculture and related activities also contribute to global warming, by generating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and altering the land surface. Agriculture is estimated to account for about 15% of global GHG emissions and for around 26% if the emissions from deforestation in developing countries – where agriculture is the leading cause of forest conversion – are included . Around 80% of agricultural emissions, including deforestation, occur in developing countries . There remains much untapped technical potential to reduce agricultural emissions and increase agricultural mitigation of emissions from other sectors, notably through reduced deforestation via changes in land use and agricultural practices.
Sustainable food security in a world of growing population and changing diets is a major challenge under climate change. Although estimates of food insecurity vary , the number of undernourished people already exceeds 1 billion and feeding this many people will require more than incremental changes . Food production may need to increase by as much as 70% by 2050 when the global population will likely number 9 billion ,. Food security depends not only on gross production of staples, but also on agriculture’s ability to provide income for its practitioners in developing countries, a diverse and balanced food basket, and on the socio-economic factors that determine whether poor people, particularly women, are able to purchase, store, prepare and consume sufficient food.
The relationships among climate change, agriculture and food security are complex and dynamic. Agriculture and food systems are heavily influenced by socio-economic conditions such as changing patterns of consumption, macro-economic policies, political conflict and the spread of disease. A report by the World Economic Forum warns that: “food security will become an increasingly complex political and economic problem over the next few years” . It is therefore vital that initiatives for better climate adaptation and food security are closely aligned.
Responses need to come quickly. Feeding the projected 9 billion people in 2050 requires radical transformation of agriculture over the next four decades, growing more food without exacerbating environmental problems and simultaneously coping with climate change . The actions taken over the next 10 years will be especially critical. A new research initiative is needed – one that integrates and applies the best and most promising approaches, tools and technologies. The involvement of farmers, policy-makers, researchers, the private sector and civil society in the research process is vital. Successful mitigation and adaptation will entail changes in individual behavior, technology, institutions, agricultural systems and socio-economic systems. These changes cannot be achieved without improving interactions among scientists and decision makers at all levels of society.
 World Bank. (2007). Population Issues in the 21st Century: The Role of the World Bank. Health, Nutrition and Population (HNP) Discussion Paper. The World Bank, Washington D.C.
 Nelson, G. et. al. (2009). Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation. Food Policy Report, 19. Washington, DC: IFPRI, 2009.
 Barrett, C.B. (2010). Measuring food insecurity. Science 327 (5967), 825 (February 2010).
 Federoff, N.V., et.al. (2010). Radically rethinking agriculture for the 21st century. Science 327 (5967), 833-834.
 Royal Society of London (2009). Reaping the Benefits: Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture. Royal Society, London.
 World Economic Forum (WEF). (2008). Global Risks 2008. A Global Risk Network Report. A World Economic Forum Report in collaboration with Citigroup, Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), Swiss Re, Wharton School Risk Center and Zurich Financial Services. WEF. Geneva.
 Godfray, H.C.J., Beddington, J.R., Crute, I.R., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J.F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S.M. and Toulmin, C. (2010). Food security: The challenge of feeding 9 billion people. Science 327 (5967), 812-818.
CCAFS Coordinating Unit - University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Science, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Rolighedsvej 21, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark, phone +45 35331046; Email ccafs [at] cgiar [dot] org, EAN 5790000279012
Lead Center - International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)