Global warming conjures up images of glaciers melting, sea levels rising and forests disappearing. While all of these scenarios are devastating, people rarely imagine that their food supplies will be massively impacted by climate change.
In its latest report, "Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II has warned that the increase in global average temperature is going to have significant risks to agricultural and food systems in vulnerable regions of the world like India.
“We’re already experiencing acute food and water shortages … If we look at two degrees of global warming we know that areas that are currently growing staple crops will not be able to grow those at the same level of efficiency and effectiveness. And so there are significant challenges coming for areas like South America, Africa, (sic) Asia, in terms of overall food production,” said Debra Roberts, one of the report’s co-chairs, in a press conference
What will be the impact?
Through changing weather patterns and increasing concentration of greenhouse gasses like methane in the atmosphere, agricultural productivity has already taken a hit. If global temperatures continue to rise unabated to more than 1.5 degrees C, then agricultural activity will be significantly affected and threaten to push millions into food scarcity.
Changing weather patterns can result in longer and severe periods of droughts and low precipitation. Extreme climatic conditions like extreme rainfall, heat waves and more can also negatively affect crops and harvests.
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Increasing humidity and heat also contribute to making the agricultural workforce less productive as wet-bulb temperatures, where humidity and heat are measured together, will continue to increase to dangerous levels and lead to the loss of productive days.
"Differential human vulnerability to environmental hazards results from a range of social, economic, historical and political factors, all of which operate at multiple scales. Climate change is expected to have serious impacts for people living within these hotspot areas, as observed from loss of food crop yields to disasters such as floods, fluctuations in seasonal water availability or other systemic effects,” the report said.
Increased temperatures will cause yields to significantly reduce. Rice and maize, two of the staple crops in India and the subcontinent will be particularly affected.
"In India, rice production can decrease by 10 percent to 30 percent, and maize production b25 percent to 70 percent, assuming a range of temperature increase from 1 degree to 4 degrees Celsius,” the report said.
Fruits and vegetables are similarly at risk due to various climatic factors. Potatoes and other starchy roots and tubers, while more resistant to temperature change, are highly sensitive to water scarcity. Additionally, increased heat and water scarcity can have critical impact during the tuber initiation stage. The perennial tree crops like grapevine, olive, almond, apple, coffee, and cocoa are also vulnerable to climate change.
Fisheries will also take a massive hit as warmer waters in general will reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen in water bodies, reducing the maximum supported population of fish. Livestock animals will be under stress from higher temperatures themselves.
"Threats to food supplies and water availability, due to continued climate change, may increase the risk of social unrest and armed conflict, particularly in poorer countries, although other factors are also important,” the report added.
What can be done?
While the world needs to come together to ensure that climate change doesn't see global temperature rise by 1.5 degrees C or more, at the same time adaptation measures need to be weighed in from this very moment. Adaptation and mitigation together can soften the blow of most of the climatic impact that global warming will have in the 21st century.
“Adaptation is a very important part of managing climate change impacts. However, our chapter and the report found that the effectiveness of most adaptation measures, including water-related measures, falls sharply at higher levels of global warming above 1.5 degrees, showing that adaptation alone will not solve the crisis,” said Aditi Mukherji, researcher at International Water Management Institute and contributing lead author for the Chapter 4 IPCC report, to Hindustan Times.
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(Edited by : Thomas Abraham)