EFFECTS OF GLOBAL WARMING ON FOOD PRICES
Posted on May 7, 2011
By Damian Carrington
GLOBAL warming has already harmed the world`s food production and has driven up food prices as much as 20 per cent over recent decades, new research has revealed.The drop in the productivity of crop plants around the world was not caused by changes in rainfall but was because higher temperatures can cause dehydration, prevent pollination and lead to slowed photosynthesis.
Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, Washington DC, said the findings indicate a turning point: “Agriculture as it exists today evolved over 11,000 years of reasonably stable climate, but that climate system is no more.” Adaptation is difficult because our knowledge of the future is not strong enough to drive new investments, he said, “so we just keep going, hoping for the best”.
The scientists say their work shows how crucial it is to find ways to adapt farming to a warmer world, to ensure that rises in global population are matched by rising food production. “It is vital,” said Wolfram Schlenker, at Columbia University in New York and one of the research team. “If we continue to have the same seed varieties and temperatures continue to rise, then food prices will rise further. [Addressing] that is the big question.”
The new research joins a small number of studies in which the fingerprint of climate change has been separated from natural variations in weather and other factors, demonstrating that the effects of warming have already been felt in the world. Scientists have shown that the chance of the severe heatwave that killed thousands in Europe in 2003 was made twice as likely by global warming, while other work showed that the floods that caused Â£3.5bn of damage in England in 2000 were made two to three times more likely.
Food prices have reached new record highs this year, and have been implicated as a trigger for unrest in the Middle East and Africa. A rising appetite for meat is a critical factor, said Wolfram. “We actually have enough calories to feed the world quite comfortably, the problem is meat is really inefficient,” as many kilogrammes of grain are needed to produce one kilogramme of meat, he said. “As countries get richer and have a preference for meat, which is more expensive, they price people in poorer countries out of the market.”
“The research provides evidence of big shifts in wheat and maize production,” commented Prof Tim Wheeler at the Walker Institute for Climate System Research, Reading University, UK.
The study, published in the journal Science , examined how rising temperatures affected the annual crop yields of all major producer nations between 1980 and 2008. Computer models were used to show how much grain would have been harvested in the absence of warming. Overall, yields have been rising over the last decades and the models took this into account. The scientists found that global wheat production was 5.5 per cent lower than it would have been without warming and maize production was 3.8 per cent lower.
The losses drove up food prices by as much as 18.9 per cent the team calculated .
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