Climate Change (CC) represents a present and growing threat to global food security. By 2050, anthropogenic CC due to green house gas (GHG) emissions is expected to raise the global temperature by 2°C from the pre-industrial levels even with drastic reductions in GHG emissions starting immediately (EACC, 2009). The increase in global temperature is going to result in frequent weather extremes like intense rainfall, floods, droughts and heat waves that have adverse impacts on agricultural production, food prices, health and general welfare of the people. The various impact corridors like food production, food consumption, food prices, and health issues through which CC can adversely impact global food security underlines the scope and magnitude of the problem.
While the primary manifestations of CC are of a physical nature such as changes in temperature, rainfall, sea levels, and increased frequency of extreme weather events, the consequences or secondary manifestations are much more varied, including ecological, social and economic impacts. How people in any given area are affected by climate change will therefore not only depend on the climate changes themselves in that area but also on ecological, social and economic factors (Mendelsohn et al, 2006). Climate changes are hence a prime example of what has been called “socio-ecological systems” with factors from different domains interacting on different spatial and temporal scales (Holling, 2001).
If countries continue to ignore the threats imposed by CC and carry on with development activities in a “business as usual” sense then the costs corresponding to CC pertaining to both agriculture and human welfare can be severe. There are studies that indicate that the developing economies will bear the heaviest impacts of CC and climate extremes (Nelson et al, 2009; Hellmuth et al, 2009). Specifically, Nelson et al. (2009) report that yield declines in developing economies will be relatively more than in the developed economies and that the economically weaker segments of the population will be the most vulnerable to climate extremes like floods, droughts and heat waves.
Response to CC is primarily in the form of mitigation, adaptation and risk transfer but even after mitigation and adaptation, there are likely to be residual damage (risk). Although mitigation to CC is essential, countries have to incorporate CC adaptation into their development goals. A report by EACC (2009) states that in the absence of such mitigation measures, global temperatures are likely to increase by as much as 2.5-7.0°C by the end of the century. Increase of global temperatures to such levels can result in catastrophic and irreversible damage like extinction of half of species worldwide, inundation of 30 percent of coastal wetlands, and substantial increases in malnutrition and diarrheal and cardio-respiratory diseases. Furthermore, adaptation costs under such circumstances are expected to be extremely high and even in the event of substantial public/private interventions, the world will not be able to reverse much of the damage caused. Global discussions on climate change offer some hope for poor developing countries to get support for climate change mitigation and adaptation but actual funding still falls below expectations (Binswanger-Mkhize et al, 2011).
Changes in precipitation patterns due to climate change will result not only in short term crop failure but will also negatively affect production of most key food crops in the long run in terms of both reduced yields and increased pest proliferation.
2) Impacts of climate change on food prices
By 2050, even without climate change, world prices for important agricultural crops, notably, rice, wheat, maize, and soybeans are projected to increase by 62%, 39%, 63%, and by 72%, respectively. Accounting for climate change, these prices are projected to increase by an additional +32-37%, +94-111%, +52-55%, and +11-14% for rice, wheat, maize, and soybean, respectively (Nelson et al, 2009).
These high food prices will impose serious financial burdens on the economies of SSA and SA as they attempt to mount safety nets for vulnerable groups or sectors while at the same time ensuring that they do not miss out on opportunities presented by the price incentives.
But price escalation is not the only concern; there is also the issue of price volatility that raises a lot of problems for resource poor farmers. Price volatility, in the absence of enterprise diversification, leads directly to income volatility, inadequate access to credit and tendencies towards low risk production technologies, or, generally poor adoption of innovations that could increase responsiveness to rising prices.
3) Impacts of climate change on food consumption:
Without climate change, increasing per capita income implies reduction in cereal consumption and an increase in meat consumption with the net change being positive: the increase in meat consumption more than offsets the decrease in cereal consumption. Although the trend of decrease in cereal consumption and increase in meat consumption remains the same in the climate change case, the net change here is negative: the decrease in cereal consumption is substantial and more than offsets the small increase in meat consumption, this holds true for various climate scenarios (see paper for details).
Climate change is expected to have very significant negative impacts on child malnutrition (although absolute estimates of child malnutrition vary across different studies). In SSA Child malnutrition levels (in no climate change scenario) are expected to decline from nearly 28 percent (in 2000) to 24 percent and 20 percent in 2030 and 2050 respectively (Calzadilla et al 2009, Ringler et al 2010), the absolute levels are projected to increase by 30 million in 2000 to 38 million and 30 million in 2030 and 2050 respectively. Climate change is further expected to exacerbate the situation with the incremental number of malnourished children being estimated at around 1 million and 600,000 in 2030 and 2050, respectively Ringler et al (2010).
Apart from addressing the various corridors through which climate change adversely impacts food security, the papers also discuss the various possible adaptation and response strategies to climate change which should be incorporated in the development agenda of the countries/regions in focus.
The Author and Research Assistant on the project is Girish Nath Bahal, University of Cambridge. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Global Development Network or its Board of Directors.
You can follow Girish on Twitter @GirishBahal
Binswanger-Mkhize, H. P., D. Byerlee. A. McCalla, M. Morris, and J. Staatz (2011). The growing opportunities for African agricultural development. ASTI/IFPRI–FARA Conference.
Calzadilla, A., T. Zhu, K. Redhanz, R. S. J. Tol, and C. Ringler (2009). Economywide Impacts of Climate Change in Sub-Saharan Africa, IFPRI Discussion Paper No. 873 (Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute).
Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change (EACC) (2009). The Costs to Developing Countries of Adapting to Climate Change. New Methods and Estimates’, Synthesis Report, Washington DC, World Bank.
Hellmuth M.E., Osgood D.E., Hess U., Moorhead A. and Bhojwani H. Eds (2009). Index insurance and climate risk: Prospects for development and disaster management. Climate and Society No. 2 International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University, New York, USA.
Holling, C.S. (2001). Understanding the complexity of economic, ecological, and social systems. Ecosystems 4 390–405.
Mendelsohn, R., A. Dinar, and L. Williams (2006). The distributional impact of climate change on rich and poor countries. Environment and Development Economics 11 159-178.
Nelson, G. C., M. Rosegrant, J. Koo, R. Robertson, T. Sulser, T. Zhu, S. Msangi, C. Ringler, A. Palazzo, M. Batka, M. Magalhaes, D. (2009). Climate Change Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation. IFPRI Food Policy Report. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Ringler, C., T. Zhu, X. Cai, J. Koo, and D. Wang (2010). Climate Change Impacts on Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from Comprehensive Climate Change Scenarios. IFPRI Discussion Paper No. 1042. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.