Historical Trends Show Food Security Threatened by Climate Change

Research published recently in Science illustrates the destabilising effect which extreme weather events have on agricultural productivity, and predicts that without significant investment now in adaptation measures, climate change will lead to major food crises in the next 100 years.

Based on an analysis of 23 global climate change models, researchers suggest that unusually hot summers, for example the 2003 heatwave in Europe, will become common by the end of this century. This heatwave, in which the temperature was 3.5oC above normal, led to 50,000 heat-related deaths and poor yields from grain and fruit crops across much of France and Italy.

Droughts in Africa from the 1960s to 90s, and consequent effect on crops, led to very many hunger-related deaths.

Examining these events, the researchers conclude that agricultural yields may fall by 20 – 40% over the next century as the climate warms, without investment in adaptation measures. They urge governments to prioritise research and development in climate change adaptation for agriculture, including investment in genomics, breeding, management and engineering.

Battisti, D.S. and Naylor, R.L. (2008). Historical Warnings of Food Security with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat. Science. 323: 240-244.