Farming food crops of all kinds is likely to become more difficult as global temperatures increase, depressing yields for corn, soybeans, rice and wheat.
That’s the bleak assessment set out by a United Nations panel of scientists gathered to assess the impact of a climate change. It warned the world is 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) hotter than it was at the start of the industrial revolution and is on track to warm 3 degrees by the end of the century.
The global corn crop may shrink by 10 percent if temperatures rise 1.5 degrees, a threshold the panel expects may be reached by 2035. There’s a similar threat for other food crops, along with a hit to livestock from cattle to pigs both because of higher temperatures and the threat to food supplies for those animals.
“If we do not keep climate change to below 2 degrees, we face more and more disruption to food supplies,” said Tim Benton, a professor of ecology at the University of Leeds in northern England. “Almost every country depends on food grown elsewhere. A drought in one place can impact food prices anywhere. As weather becomes more extreme, there is the risk of increasing volatility in food supply and prices.”
The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published Monday in Incheon, South Korea, suggested increasing pressure for higher food prices in the coming decades as more extreme weather makes growing conditions increasingly difficult. For example, just this year a drought in major wheat growers from the European Union to Australia has sent prices on a surge.
Climate change will add to strain on food prices, which are already headed for a squeeze as the global population booms. The UN estimates there will be 11.2 billion people on the planet by the end of the century, more than a third higher than the 7.6 billion in 2017.
The biggest impacts on crop yields won’t be confined to just the poorest countries in the world. From the Mediterranean to the Amazon, local crops will be harmed — including olives and grapes.
Even under 2 degrees of warming, losses of 8 percent to 14 percent are projected in global corn production. Any higher than that would push losses to about 20 percent in some parts of the world. There’s a risk of a doomsday scenario where crops collapse completely in some areas, the report said.
There will be a one-third decline in per capita crop production in Southeast Asia if it’s 2 degrees hotter, while in west Africa significant reduction in crop yields may cause serious regional food shortages, according to the report.
Envoys at the 2015 Paris Agreement talks asked the IPCC to study what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees instead of the previous 2-degree target. The scientists concluded that carbon dioxide emissions should be cut 45 percent by 2030 from 2010 levels then reduced to zero by 2050.
Should global warming tip over 3 degrees Celsius rice crops in South East Asia would become less nutrient rich by an amount that’ll harm the health of up to 600 million people who rely on the crop as a staple, scientists suggest.
“Previous assessments may have underestimated how sensitive natural and human systems are to climate change,” the IPCC wrote in the report.