Climate change puts increasing pressure on food production, finds IPCC

“Droughts, floods, and heatwaves could cause sudden food production losses, increase food prices, and limit access to diverse and nutritious food,” Hasegawa said. [Shutterstock]

Ongoing global warming will likely put a major strain on food systems and could make millions worldwide subject to food insecurity, a new report published today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds.

The report “shows that the negative impacts of climate change on food production and access to food are projected to worsen with every degree of global warming,” Toshihiro Hasegawa, a coordinating lead author of the report, said.

The IPCC, a United Nations (UN) body tasked with gathering and evaluating relevant science on climate change, is currently in the midst of presenting its sixth assessment report. The portion of the report that was published today focuses on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

The report was approved by 195 governments worldwide.

Food production systems will need to better prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, the report states. According to the researchers, climate change is already affecting food security in vulnerable regions such as Asia and Africa and slowing the growth of agricultural productivity.

Moreover, the report finds that even a small increase in global temperature will cause increases in the severity and frequency of extreme weather events. “Droughts, floods, and heatwaves could cause sudden food production losses, increase food prices, and limit access to diverse and nutritious food,” Hasegawa said.

Resilient food systems

This winter, Portugal and Spain have experienced the worst drought in 15 years, which has led to water shortages and disrupted agricultural production. Speaking to EU lawmakers on the droughts during a recent plenary session, Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli warned that extreme weather events like droughts would only become more frequent in the future, adding that national food systems would need to be made more resilient.

Last year several countries, including Germany and Belgium, were hit by heavy rainfall and severe flooding which destroyed harvests and stocked agricultural goods.

MEPs, Commission share concerns over 'severe' Iberian drought

As Spain and Portugal are hit by the worst drought in 15 years, MEPs have voiced worries over the situation. EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli raised hopes that support could come from funds in the EU’s farming subsidies programme.

The report found that climate related hazards could also affect food supply chains, which could have severe impacts on those dependent on food imports.

In the face of the severe projected ramifications of climate change, it is key that food production adapts, Hasegawa explained.

“While there are many adaptation options being implemented in food systems, much more needs to be done to avoid severe impacts from climate change,” he said, adding that there are many options for helpful measures. Making the farming of crops, livestock and fish species more sustainable “has the potential to provide multiple benefits,” he concluded.

The European Commission recently presented a communication on food security, designed to address vulnerabilities arising from climate change and import reliance, amongst other factors. One of the solutions proposed by the paper was the launch of an expert group to monitor and warn of upcoming risks.

Poorest regions hit worst

Millions of people could become subject to acute food insecurity, the researchers warn. The harshest climate impacts will be experienced by “the world’s poorest people”, the report finds – with Europe likely to be less affected than other regions.

Commission: EU committed to guiding Africa in raising sustainable food standards

The EU “is there” for African farmers and food producers with development support should the increased European green agriculture standards create trade barriers, according to a Commission official.

“The science is clear,” UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Olivier De Schutter said. “Without a major turnaround in carbon emissions and the way we farm, we are likely to see mass crop failures and food system collapse,” he added, stressing that people in poverty would be “hit first and hardest by a crisis they did not cause”.

The researchers also made concerning projections for the development of soil health: by 2050, a large part of earth’s land areas could be degraded, the report states. Pollination, too, would be weakened if the temperature increase reaches 2%, while pests and agricultural diseases would become more widespread.

In November 2021, the Commission presented its European Soil Strategy, which it commits to tabling a soil health law by 2023 that would give soil the same protected status as water and air.

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[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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