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Food Security Could Be Threatened By Climate Change

December 2, 2010

Growing staple food prices in 2008 and 2010 may be just a quick preview of things to come in the future as impacts from climate change and population growth merge, according to a report issued at UN talks in Cancun on Wednesday.

In the next 40 years, corn prices could rise by 42-131 percent, rice prices by 11-78 percent, and that of wheat by 17-67 percent, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said.

The price increase forecasts are based on a range of 15 scenarios whose factors are the state of the global economy, population-growth and changes in rainfall and temperatures around the world, IFPRI said.

“Climate change will cause lower rice yields all over the world in 2050, compared to a future without climate change,” IFPRI warned. “One of the climate change scenarios results in substantial declines in maize exports in developed countries, but small increases in yields in developing nations. Wheat yields will fall in all regions, with the largest losses in developing countries.”

Investing in agriculture in poor countries now is the key to easing the problem. Farmers who have more income have a better chance of dealing with the effects of climate changes, the report said.

Report co-author, Gerald Nelson, told AFP that “many have made the case that we have to address climate change to fight poverty. We are saying you must address poverty as a key part of climate change adaptation, and you must do it now.”

“Once the most serious effects of climate change kick in, it will already be too late to respond effectively,” he said.

All scenarios used to forecast food price increases “now show average temperature increases by 2050 to be on the order of one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). After that, they diverge dramatically, ranging from 2C to 4C (3.6-7.2F) by 2100,” according to the report.

As the world population continues to quickly grow, researchers and watchdogs warn about the impact climate change will have on food supplies.

The world population is expected to rise from around 6.9 billion now to between 7.9 billion and 10.5 billion by 2050, with a median estimate of 9.15 billion, according to UN forecasts.

The increase is determined mainly by economic factors. Rising prosperity in poor countries prompts many families to have fewer children, if any.

The Cancun talks are headed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), with 193 countries in attendance, as well as the institution of the European Union (EU).

Delegates, meeting until Dec 10, are working on an agreement on how to reduce carbon emissions and devise new ways of channeling hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to countries affected more drastically by climate change.

On Monday’s opening talks, The UN’s special reporter on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schuetter declared that as many as 600 million more people could be at risk of hunger by 2020 due to climate change.

Production of rice, wheat and corn could fall by five to ten percent by 2030, according to Tang Huajun, deputy dean of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

“Agriculture has been the worst hit by climate change and some negative effects have become more obvious due to rising temperatures and water shortages over the past 10 years,” Tang told the official China Daily.

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