Global warming will not increase global food production

Drobnice, Poland (Maciej Szczepaniak, CC BY)

The increase in the average temperature in the world, mainly as a result of climate change, will reduce the yields of cereals and other crops in the future, writes OECD in its report.

Jussi Lankoski, Ada Ignaciuk and Franck Jesus are the authors of a report published by the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate. They point to the ecological and economic consequences of the progressing global warming. These consequences will negatively affect the efficiency of agricultural production in almost all regions of the world. According to them in Central Europe the decline of crops could reach from 5 to 25 percent by 2050.

Climate change is also increasing the number of catastrophic events (floods, droughts), which cause increasing losses in agricultural production. In this context, the authors recall, among others, the magnitude of the destruction caused by the flood in Pakistan in 2013, which caused an estimated USD1.91bn in losses to the country’s agriculture sector alone. The drought that occurred in the southern states of the USA in 2011 and 2012, was also catastrophic for agricultural production. It caused a permanent reduction in animal husbandry and the production of meat and milk in the United States.

The OECD study is based on the projection of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 32 years (until 2050). That projection is based on the most pessimistic of the four RCP (representative concentration pathways) scenarios concerning the changes in carbon dioxide concentration that were adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a project comparing the global climate models. These estimates were complemented by detailed interviews and surveys carried out in France, the Netherlands and the United States.

The study indicates that the expected climate change will reduce the effectiveness of agricultural production (yield per hectare) for almost all types of cultivated crops and in almost all geographical regions. In OECD countries, the yields of maize, wheat and rice will decrease, respectively, by 10 per cent, 7 per cent and 6 per cent. The most catastrophic decline in crops, by approx. 50 per cent, can be expected in the case of sugar cane cultivation in India. The agricultural sector in the Asian countries may turn out to be one of the most affected globally.

This does not mean that everyone will lose as a consequence of climate change. On the one hand, global warming will lead to the process of transformation of areas that currently have a humid climate – i.e. southern Asia – into steppes, on the other hand, however, it may lead to more intensive cultivation of plants in other regions of the world. For example, the authors of the OECD report expect that the rice yields in Europe and in Chile will increase by several dozen per cent.

The effort to minimize the negative effects of climate change will require the governments to overcome the contradictions between the needs of agriculture and food production, and those of environmental protection. Lower yields will encourage governments to intensify agricultural production. However, agricultural production, and intensive agricultural production in particular, is a significant source of increased greenhouse gas emissions in itself. In turn, higher CO2 emissions ultimately reduce the size of agricultural yields. Without good coordination at the local, regional and global levels, we are threatened by a vicious circle degrading both agriculture and the environment.

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