In 2018 European farmers suffered a historical drought that shocked the global food market. The exceptional lack of rain and record summer temperatures in northern Europe have reduced by half some crops in Sweden, the Baltic and the Central and Eastern European countries. "The grandparents compare it to the drought of 1976. My father does not remember the same drought," says Iris Bouwers, a 25-year-old Dutch farmer who guardian. The price of wheat was fired in August in Belgium, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Poland above 210 euros per tonne (about 30% more), but measures led by the EU – suspected of "green" obligations and the activation of state aid – managed to contain the crisis. And Europe has (yet) mechanisms to adapt to an increasingly unpredictable climate. But when such a drought affects developing countries, as happened in Africa in 2016 with the exasperation of the Child, the loss of crops results in malnutrition, hunger and death.
Climate change is transforming the global food system. Not only with catastrophic droughts and floods for crops, but also because of the gradual, but very worrying, impact of rising temperatures, which is "moving crops to dust and away from the tropics", says Samuel Myers, principal investigator in planetary health at Harvard University. "There is no doubt that climate change will reduce the amount of food that the Earth can produce in the future, especially in areas close to the equator," warns the scientist.
Another climatic injustice
The planet loses only cultivated land in the regions where the population grows and where the states have less ability to adapt. "The projections say we will see a reduction of between 15% and 25% in the production of wheat and corn in the tropics, while in areas closer to the poles will increase productivity but will not compensate for this loss," explains Myers.
The latest report of the IPCC – a group of UN climate scientists – also warned that with the only 1.5 ºC increase from world temperature, which could occur in 2035 ( now increased by 1 ºC), 10% of world corn production will be reduced. Going up to 2ºC would mean a loss of 15% and if we reached 3ºC, as expected at the end of the century, "the point of no return of the collapse of corn crops in some regions could be transferred", as the 39; Africa.
At the same time, the UN warns that 70% of global agricultural production must be increased to feed the 10,000 million people that will be in the world by 2050. It is clear that climate change will put more sticks on wheels facing this challenge.
Wheat and corn are the most vulnerable to climate change, while rice and soy are not. Some countries, for example in Europe, will be forced to change grain for honey, a grain much more resistant to dry land, "but the tropics have no alternative because they can not learn from crops in other warmer areas," he said. underlines Christoph Müller, researcher at the Potsdam Institute for climate impact research.
There will be a lot of research to find valid alternatives to the arid lands of the future in the tropics, just where investment is scarce. "The poor will be the ones who will suffer the most, because rich countries can afford to pay more for food, it's part of climate injustice: those who have contributed most to climate change are the least affected," says Müller. And changes in the crop position will mainly benefit Russia, Scandinavia and Canada, although also Argentina, which is now one of the world's leading grain exporters. "Some crops are driven by rising temperatures in the northern and southern regions of the planet, but extreme weather events, such as floods, can counteract: we face an uncertain climate world and we do not know what can happen," notes Timothy Sulser of # 39; International Institute for Food Policy Research (IFPRI).
"What we will surely see is that the developed world will have to supply more and more food to the developing countries," says Sulser. North Africa, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the dry corridor of Latin America and South Asia, which are now importers of food, will be the worst affected. "The projections of IFPRI also provide for price increases [dels aliments bàsics] because of climate change, "says Sulser, and that, again, will adversely affect the poorest importer countries – Sulser does not foresee a change in dynamics: exporters will continue to be exporters and importers will have to import more. the only exception could be Southeast Asia, which is now an exporter of food and may be one of the regions that will lose more crops.
Less quantity and quality
"It is clear that we have a global food production system that has been adapted for tens of thousands of years to a stable climate that we are now changing at the fastest pace in the history of the species, and this will have an impact on the quantity and quality of food. that we produce, "says Myers. And is that a recent study by himself found that the high concentrations of CO 2 In the atmosphere they reduce the nutrients of food. In particular, with the CO2 that will be in the atmosphere in 2050, wheat, rice, oats and potatoes will have between 7% and 15% less protein, which will put 200 million more people at risk of falling under the threshold of protein deficiency. With the same CO 2also the levels of zinc and iron fall to 11% in cereals and legumes. "Maybe it does not seem like much, but there are already many people in the world with a deficit of these nutrients," he says. The decline of zinc and iron would put 150 million more people at risk.
With poorer and less qualitative crops, the goal is to produce enough food for a growing global population. And the equation still adds another obstacle: the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agricultural sector generates 24% of global emissions, which is largely methane that emits livestock production and fertilizer gases, as well as the part resulting from deforestation to create agricultural land. "The simplest way to reduce emissions from agriculture is to consume less meat: especially ruminants, which are the biggest source of emissions in the sector," says Müller.
"We are in the midst of this huge challenge where we have to produce more and more nutritious food for 11,000 million people, but without contaminating the atmosphere more and without taking more land in the forests, because we have already put the planet and biodiversity at the limit, "says Myers." A challenging moment that will require many innovations and new research ".
Proposal to COP24: reduce meat consumption by 40% in 2050
This week, at the UN summit in Poland, COP24, a study by the World Resources Institute (WRI) was presented, which foresees a 50% increase in food demand in 2050. Above all, that of meat, which will rise by 70%. This would result in an increase in agricultural emissions that would not allow the Paris agreement commitments to be reached. The solution? The WRI states that it is enough that the 2,000 million people who today have an excess of animal protein in their diet reduce their consumption by 40% by 2050. It also says that it is necessary to cultivate agricultural production by intensifying the current crops, but without taking up more land. To make this possible, the poor countries will need a part of the annual 100,000 million euros that the Paris agreement predicts that the rich will contribute from 2020. But it is still one of the hot spots of these trading days Poland, that must end up approving the regulation implementing the agreement. Developing states want developed countries to set specific figures on the table, but the latter are reluctant to compromise their future budgets. It will be one of the problems that will not be resolved until the last minute. And we will have to see how it is closed.
"If you want to save the planet, eat less meat"