In recent months there has been a series of extreme weather events in Poland, which have once again revived the debate about global warming. Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation and raises the temperature in the atmosphere. Thanks to this feature of greenhouse gases, temperatures conducive to the development of life have been maintained on our planet. Earth emits carbon dioxide but also absorbs it (plants consume it in the process of photosynthesis, and it is absorbed by the oceans). As a result, over the short term, its content in the Earth’s atmosphere is stable. However, over the long term, carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere is characterized by cyclical fluctuations. This is due to changes in the Earth’s climate resulting from periodic changes in the way it moves around the sun, which affect the amount of solar radiation reaching the planet.
The rapid increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide recorded in recent decades, which is related to human activity, significantly exceeds these cyclic variations of its content in the atmosphere. In other words, more carbon dioxide is now produced than Earth is able to absorb. This significantly strengthens the effects of global warming attributable to the cyclical changes in the Earth’s movement around the sun.
Climate change and economy
As a result, in recent decades we have seen an acceleration in the melting of glaciers and a rise in the global sea levels, the desertification of many regions, as well as the occurrence of extreme weather events. This has serious implications for the global economy. Consequently, in recent years climate change has become a subject of discussion not only among the scientists studying the topic, but also among the representatives of the financial community. Such an assessment is supported by the “The Global Risks Report, 2019”, report of the World Economic Forum. According to the survey results presented in the report show that over the past three years the concerns of market participants have been dominated by risk factors associated with the natural environment, such as extreme weather conditions, natural disasters, as well as the lack of effectiveness in combating climate change and the inability to adapt to it.
Influence on the agriculture
Agriculture is a sector of the economy that is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Global warming is conducive to more frequent occurrences of extreme weather events. The strong growth in food prices observed in Poland in recent months shows how important this is for agricultural production. According to Pekao S.A. bank’s experts, in July 2019 the rate of growth in food prices increased to 7.3 per cent y/y, and reached its highest level since 2011. There are many signs that this is not yet the maximum rate of growth in food prices. The increases observed are largely attributable to the higher prices of vegetables, as well as bread and cereal products, resulting from last year’s drought. Moreover, in conditions of increasing integration of the global agricultural markets, consumers are being affected by weather anomalies occurring not only domestically, but also in remote regions of the world. The best example is the sharp increase in the price of butter observed a few years ago. The price spike largely resulted from the drought in New Zealand, which accounts for more than half of the global exports of butter.
The increase in the average temperature promotes faster growth in pest populations and increases their appetites due to accelerated metabolism. Moreover, global warming causes the migration of pest populations to regions where they previously didn’t exist because of unfavorable climate conditions. One example of this phenomenon is the caterpillar known as Spodoptera frugiperda, which has been spreading rapidly across the world in recent years. It is currently ravaging the corn crops in China, posing a risk to its global production volumes.
Over the long term climate change determines the possibility of producing food in different parts of our planet through its effect on temperatures and the amount of rainfall. Recent press reports of the first mango, avocado and banana crops in Italy are an example. In Poland climate change is indicated by the vineyards, which are increasingly appearing in certain regions of the country. We should keep in mind, however, that at the same time, many parts of our planet are losing their suitability for agricultural production due to the extremely high temperatures and the process of desertification.
Polish agriculture among the biggest beneficiaries of global warming
Due to the growing awareness of the potential effects of climate change on agricultural production, in recent years this topic has been the subject of numerous scientific studies. The European Commission’s report on the impact of global warming in Europe deserves particular attention from the point of view of Polish agriculture. It was based on the assumption, that the average temperature in the world in the years 2025-2055 will be about 2°C higher than in the preindustrial era. According to the report, global warming will have a generally positive impact on the volume of agricultural production in the European Union. However, the authors point out that the effects of climate change will exhibit significant geographical variation. The main beneficiaries will be such countries as Poland, Germany, and the United Kingdom. There the global warming will lead to an extension of the growing season. Combined with an acceleration of the process of photosynthesis due to the higher carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere, this will have a positive effect on the size of plant production.
At the same time global warming will promote crops whose cultivation has so far been limited by excessively low temperatures. Although it’s difficult to expect that citrus fruits will be cultivated in Poland’s geographical latitude (global warming is not synonymous with the absence of freezing temperatures in Poland), we will likely see, among others, more sunflowers and soybeans growing in the Polish countryside. In turn, in the south of Europe the conditions for agricultural production will noticeably deteriorate due to the increase in average temperatures and a decrease in average rainfall. As a consequence of global warming Poland could strengthen its comparative advantage in food production and increase its surplus in food trade.
Climate-related challenges faced by Polish agriculture
The main challenge faced by the Polish agricultural sector in conditions of global warming are the limited water resources. In Poland the availability of water per capita is almost three times lower than the average for Europe. It’s even lower than in Egypt. It could be expected that progressing climate change will further exacerbate this problem. As a result, Polish agriculture will increasingly require artificial irrigation. On the one hand this means that agricultural producers need to invest in solutions enabling the storage of water and the subsequent irrigation of crops. On the other hand, public investment will be necessary in order to improve water retention and optimization of the national water management in conditions of climate change. In Poland, the retention capacity only allows for the storage of approximately 6 per cent of the annual water runoff in the country, while in many European countries this ratio reaches over a dozen per cent.
Another problem that Polish agriculture will have to face will be increasingly frequent extreme weather events, as well as the growing risk of animal and plant diseases and pest infestation typical of warmer regions. Moreover, increasing integration of the European Union’s food market with the global one exposes agricultural producers to bigger price volatility resulting from negative supply shocks, not only in Europe, but also in the global agricultural sector. This creates the necessity of developing effective risk management mechanisms in the Polish agriculture.
High social costs of global warming
Although the Polish agricultural sector could become one of the biggest beneficiaries of global warming in the coming years, we should keep in mind that the list of countries where the conditions for agricultural production will noticeably deteriorate is much longer. Moreover, these changes will primarily impact the countries of the Global South, which are already characterized by lower levels of wealth and which are less able to counteract the negative effects of global warming. Consequently, climate change could potentially exacerbate the problem of world hunger.
At the same time, the effects of global warming are not limited to agriculture but also apply to other areas of human life. The rise in sea levels due to melting glaciers could soon become the cause of mass global migrations from coastal areas further inland. Moreover, the rising average temperatures will negatively affect the quality of life in many regions, contributing to an increase in mortality. All of this points to the necessity of intensifying the efforts to counteract global warming.