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Climate change a threat to food supply

NEW YORK — Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.

Climate change a threat to food supply

Corn crop ruined by drought. The new IPCC report states that global warming could reduce agricultural production by as much as 2 per cent each decade for the rest of this century. Photo: Reuters

NEW YORK — Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.

In a departure from an earlier assessment, the scientists concluded that rising temperatures will have some beneficial effects on crops in some places but, globally, they will make it harder for crops to thrive — perhaps reducing production overall by as much as 2 per cent each decade for the rest of this century, compared with what it would be without climate change.

The warnings come in a leaked draft of a report under development by a United Nations panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The document is not final and could change before it is released in March.

The agricultural risks “are greatest for tropical countries, given projected impacts that exceed adaptive capacity and higher poverty rates compared with temperate regions”, the draft report found.

Singapore imports over 90 per cent of the food it consumes, according to the website of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore. The AVA’s strategy to diversify Singapore’s food sources reduces reliance on any single country and allows the Republic to switch quickly to alternative sources if necessary, the agency says on its website.

The warning on the food supply is the sharpest in tone the panel has issued. While the previous report, in 2007, did warn of risks and potential losses in output, that report found that gains in production at higher latitudes would most likely offset the losses and ensure an adequate global supply.

The IPCC is the principal scientific body charged with reviewing and assessing climate science, then issuing reports about the risks to the world’s governments. Its main reports come out every five to six years. The group won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Mr Al Gore, in 2007 for its efforts.

On food supply, the new report finds that benefits from global warming may be seen in some areas, like northern lands that are now marginal for food production. But it says overall, global warming could reduce agricultural production by as much as 2 per cent each decade for the rest of this century.

During that period, demand is expected to rise as much as 14 per cent each decade, the report found, as the world population is projected to grow to 9.6 billion in 2050, from 7.2 billion today, according to the UN, and as many of those people in developing countries acquire the money for richer diets.

Any shortfall would lead to rising food prices that would hit the world’s poor hardest, as has already occurred from price increases of recent years. Research has found that climate change, particularly severe heat waves, was a factor in those price spikes.

If the report proves to be correct about the effect on crops from climate change, global food demand might have to be met — if it can be met — by putting new land into production. That could entail chopping down large areas of forest, which would only accelerate climate change by sending substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the air from the destruction of trees.

The IPCC report also warns that many plants and animals could become extinct. The report adds: “Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle-income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle to high-income countries with increasing inequality.”

In terms of disease, it says that, until about 2050 “climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist” and then it will lead to worse health compared to a future with no further warming.

One of the more controversial sections of the report involves climate change and war. “Climate change indirectly increases risks from violent conflict in the form of civil war, intergroup violence and violent protests by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks,” the report said.

The leak occurred on a blog hostile to the IPCC. A spokesman for the panel, Mr Jonathan Lynn, said: “It’s a work in progress. It’s likely to change.” AGENCIES

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