Global Agriculture Raises Greenhouse Gas Emissions
October 31, 2012

Climate Change Mitigation And Adaptation Equally Critical For Global Food Security

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Two new reports on climate change and the food supply indicate, among other things, that over 18,000 megatons of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere annually by agriculture and food production.

Previous studies have examined the connection between agriculture and emissions, but the new report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) performs that analysis on the entire food production infrastructure that accounts for up to 29 percent of global emissions.

“We are coming to terms with the fact that agriculture is a critical player in climate change,” said Frank Rijsberman, the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium. “Not only are emissions from agriculture much larger than previously estimated, but with weather records being set every month as regional climates adjust and reset, there is an urgent need for research that helps smallholder farmers adapt to the new normal.”

One report, Climate Change and Food Security, said that agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the food industry´s total emissions, but the contributions from transportation, consumer practices, and waste management are growing at a faster rate.

Another report from CCAFS, titled Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World, outlined how and where crops should be grown in the future in the context of climate change.

The study focused on the production of 22 individual food commodities and how the future landscape might affect agriculture and food production. For example, the study predicted wheat production will fall 13 percent by 2050 due to problems with irrigation. Corn production in Africa will drop by 10 to 20 percent because of rising temperatures, which the plants are not well-suited to handle, according to the report.

The report´s authors also noted that livestock are fed grains and any drop in crop production will also impact the dairy, meat and poultry industries.

Climate change could also alter the ecosystems where these crops are grown–raising the potential for increased pest populations and diseases like potato blight, the report warned.

"Ecosystem changes due to climate change may spawn shifts in the intensity of pests and diseases, including potato blight and beetles, that will further limit food production," said Philip Thornton, an author of Recalibrating Food Production. “Indeed, even if crops could withstand increased temperatures and decreased rainfall, their yields could drop because of these scourges.”

The CCAFS also addressed how climate change could impact every step of the food chain, including the potential for food-borne illnesses, which already impact millions of people.

"So far, the climate change discussion has focused on the need to reduce emissions and sustainably boost crop yields, but it is crucial also to include food safety in our foresight and planning," said Sonja Vermeulen, the head of research at CCAFS and the lead author of Climate Change and Food Security.

Despite the dire warnings and predictions in the reports, the authors noted that increased production and access to food are still possible, if policymakers calibrate their policies to reflect the changing conditions.

"The good news is that if farmers and food producers start to adapt now, they can stave off some of the dour food production and distribution scenarios laid out in this research. But they can't face these complex, interrelated problems, which vary from crop to crop and region to region, alone. They need support from the highest levels," Thornton said.