Climate Change Brews Perfect Storm of Food Woes

The Lempert Report
December 29, 2015

Weathercasters may not believe in climate change, but our farmers know better.

A recent report in Scientific American pointed out that crop yields globally have actually decreased by 2.5% over the past decade due to climate changes. This at a time where the world’s population is growing rapidly - current estimates predict 9 billion people by 2050, and a need to increase agriculture productivity by 60% - and the question is how do we expect to feed all these people? Or are we headed into an era of wars over food? And what’s the long term impact for the prices of our foods?

There might be some light at the end of the tunnel according to a new report from USDA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research which was issued at the Paris Climate Talks in early December of this year. The report urged countries to take steps to adjust for the climate changes. One example from the research presented by the 19 federal, academic, ngos and intergovernmental organizations explained that  researchers found that crop yield increases seem to have declined globally by 2.5 percent per decade because of climate change. In tropical areas where plants are already growing in conditions that are close to the maximum of what they can tolerate, yield losses will be greater as temperatures rise. Warmer temperatures also facilitate the spread of plant pests and diseases. Livestock are at risk because hotter temperatures can make animals eat less and become less physically active, which translates into lower growth and reproduction rates, and less meat, milk and eggs.

This initiative is not only critical for our farmers, but we also urge supermarkets to pay attention and be part of the discussion and solution by working with their suppliers to adapt and informing their customers what impact climate change is having.

Ag Secretary Vilsak discussed how California's persistent drought costs farmers $3 billion in 2015. He goes on to say how the impact has produced increases in invasive pests, diseases and how “a strong El Niño weather pattern has combined with a record wildfire year to create a damaging "perfect storm of disasters. In a worst-case scenario where high population growth combines with low economic growth, the number of people at risk of malnourishment would go up by 175 million in 2080 from today's roughly 800 million people without adequate food. If greenhouse gas emissions concentrations rise to 550 ppm, add 60 million more people to the list of those at risk of malnourishment.

The Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative (GODAN) was launched during the climate summit in New York in September, and is a voluntary alliance of more than 100 national governments, research organizations and nonprofits working to facilitate data sharing worldwide and is calling for the world leaders at the U.N. climate talks in Paris to make detailed historical weather data, high-resolution weather forecasts and climate change projections openly available. The reason is simple. Having detailed information about what kind of weather to expect over the growing season is vital to farmers, and according to GODAN, even more so now that climate change is already making weather patterns less predictable. USDA is working to encourage farmers to voluntarily adopt more climate-friendly farming techniques. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners looking for information about how changing weather patterns could affect their state can go to one of seven regional Climate Hubs and participate in the 10 Building Blocks for Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry, a host of USDA initiatives to cut carbon emissions and increase sequestration of 120 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2025 — the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road.