Climate change threatens global food production

Suzy Friedman

It seems ever more certain that the future of agriculture and food production is ever more uncertain. Last week a leaked copy of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed to climate change as a risk to global food supplies.  

According to the report, the negative effects of climate change on food supplies  are not generations away, but something the world is already confronting. The IPCC predicts that global food production will decline 2% per decade for the remainder of this century (compared to food production without climate change) – even as food demand increases 14% per decade.  

These sobering estimates represent a major revision for the IPCC. In a 2007 report, the panel was hopeful that gains in agricultural productivity would more than make up for losses due to climate change. But research since then has revealed in greater detail the impacts of climate change on sensitive crops and raised questions about how much elevated carbon dioxide levels could increase productivity. 

So where does that leave us? Now, more than ever, we need to produce more food with less impact (and on a smaller footprint of land). Farmers must seek out production methods and crop rotations that will be highly productive and have a smaller impact on water quality and quantity, climate and habitat.  

We have the tools to do this, including production methods and technologies that reduce the need for inputs like fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides; innovative irrigation methods that reduce water demand; and methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

We can meet the food needs of 9 billion people by 2050 without irreparably harming the planet on which we all depend. But it will take ingenuity and determination and innovative partnerships among everyone working in the agricultural sector. The IPCC report should serve as a wake-up call.

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