New report examines the challenges and potential of the global agriculture sector in the face of climate change.
In 2015, scientists found that, for the first time ever, carbon dioxide levels (CO2) had reached an average of 400 parts per million (ppm) throughout the year. In what the Guardian called a “new era of climate change reality,” scientists, like Dr. Michael Gunson of NASA warned that “the world is quickening the rate of accumulation of CO2, and has shown no signs of slowing down.” Dr. Erika Podest, also with NASA explained, “this milestone is a wake-up call that our actions in response to climate change need to match the persistent rise in CO2."
Fortunately, there are signs that the global community may finally be heeding this wake-up call. On October 15 of this year, negotiators from 197 countries reached an agreement to eliminate the use of refrigerants that contribute to ozone layer depletion. Likewise, this past December the historic Paris Agreement was adopted as an international cooperative effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, which addresses a number of development issues, also includes climate change as a pressing concern.
Plans to minimize the impacts of climate change must, however, also take a close look at food production. The global community now faces a dual quagmire of how to reduce the impact of climate change while simultaneously meeting the needs of a rising population. Indicative of this is the inclusion of agriculture as a major component of many countries’ climate change adaptation and mitigation plans, especially in the developing world.
The recently released State of Food and Agriculture Report, a publication of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), examines these issues in depth. The report offers a comprehensive view of both the challenges and potential inherent in the global agriculture sector, focusing on the need for transformation in the food and agriculture system.
The report clearly outlines the stark reality of how a changing climate will impact various regions of the world. Although some areas, such as the Great Lakes region of North America and temperate and polar zones of Europe, may benefit in the short-term from rising temperatures, the report estimates that, after 2030, all regions will experience negative consequences due to climate change.
Regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia are expected to experience adverse growing conditions much sooner. The FAO predicts, for instance, that Sub-Saharan Africa will experience reduced cereal crop yields while changing rain patterns that will produce drought in some areas and increased rainfall in others. In Asia, rice yields are expected to decrease and the availability of freshwater will be limited.
To alleviate the pressure that changing weather patterns will have on food production around the world, the FAO advocates for sustainable agriculture practices, including nitrogen-efficient crops, integrated fertility management, and the use of heat-tolerant crops. The report also explicitly states the need for plans that are inclusive of women. Rural women are often constrained due to gender norms and household responsibilities while also lacking access to extension services, land rights, and capital, including loans.
Addressing climate change, says José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, cannot be “business as usual.” Instead, the ability of the global community to cooperate “will determine whether humanity succeeds in eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030 and producing food for all.”
Read the full report: The State of Food and Agriculture. Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.