How Climate Change Will Alter Our Food

How Climate Change Will Alter Our Food

The world population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050. With 3.4 billion more mouths to feed, and the growing desire of the middle class for meat and dairy in developing countries, global demand for food could increase by between 59 and 98 percent. This means that agriculture around the world needs to step up production and increase yields. But scientists say that the impacts of climate change—higher temperatures, extreme weather, drought, increasing levels of carbon dioxide and sea level rise—threaten to decrease the quantity and jeopardize the quality of our food supplies.

A recent study of global vegetable and legume production concluded that if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trajectory, yields could fall by 35 percent by 2100 due to water scarcity and increased salinity and ozone.

Another new study found that U.S. production of corn (a.k.a. maize), much of which is used to feed livestock and make biofuel, could be cut in half by a 4˚C increase in global temperatures—which could happen by 2100 if we don’t reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If we limit warming to under 2˚ C, the goal of the Paris climate accord, U.S. corn production could still decrease by about 18 percent. Researchers also found that the risk of the world’s top four corn exporters (U.S., Brazil, Argentina and the Ukraine) suffering simultaneous crop failures of 10 percent or more is about 7 percent with a 2˚C increase in temperature. If temperatures rise 4˚C, the odds shoot up to a staggering 86 percent.

“We’re most concerned about the sharply reduced yields,” said Peter de Menocal, Dean of Science at Columbia University and director of the Center for Climate and Life. “We already have trouble feeding the world and this additional impact on crop yields will impact the world’s poorest and amplify the rich/poor divide that already exists.”