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Global warming could clobber food production: UN

April 7, 2011
Courtesy of FAO
and World Science staff

Glob­al warm­ing could have a “po­ten­tially catas­troph­ic” long-term im­pact on food pro­duc­tion, with poor peo­ple most at risk, a U.N. agen­cy is warn­ing.

The ef­fects are “are ex­pected to in­creas­ingly hit the de­vel­op­ing world… ac­tion is needed now to pre­pare,” the The U.N.’s Food and Ag­ri­cul­ture Or­gan­iz­a­tion warned on March 31 in a sub­mis­sion to the U.N. Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change.

“Cur­rently the world is fo­cused on deal­ing with shorter-term cli­mate im­pacts caused mainly by ex­treme weath­er events,” said Al­ex­an­der Müller, the FAO’s assistant-director gen­er­al for nat­u­ral re­sources. “But ‘slow-onset’ im­pacts are ex­pected to br­ing deeper changes that chal­lenge the ec­o­sys­tem ser­vic­es needed for ag­ri­cul­ture, with po­ten­tially dis­as­trous im­pacts… from 2050 to 2100.”

Courtesy FAO


“While these changes oc­cur grad­u­ally and take time… we can’t simply ig­nore them,” he added. “We need to move be­yond our usu­al ten­den­cy to take a short-term per­spec­tive.”

Food pro­duc­tion sys­tems, and the ec­o­sys­tems they de­pend on, are highly sen­si­tive to cli­mate vari­abil­ity and cli­mate change, sci­en­tists say. Changes in tem­per­a­ture, pre­cipita­t­ion and re­lat­ed out­breaks of pest and dis­eases can re­duce pro­duc­tion. Poor peo­ple in coun­tries that de­pend on food im­ports are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to such ef­fects, the agen­cy warned.

The FAO out­lined pre­par­a­to­ry steps that gov­ern­ments could con­sid­er. A key one is to de­vel­op food va­ri­eties bet­ter adapted to ex­pected fu­ture cli­mat­ic con­di­tions. Plant ge­net­ic ma­te­ri­al stored in gene banks should be screened with fu­ture re­quire­ments in mind, of­fi­cials said. Ad­di­tion­al plant ge­net­ic re­sources, in­clud­ing those from wild rel­a­tives of food crops, should be col­lect­ed and stud­ied be­cause they may other­wise dis­ap­pear, they added.

Cli­mate-adapted crop­s—for ex­am­ple va­ri­eties of ma­jor ce­reals that are re­sist­ant to heat, drought, sub­mer­gence and salty wa­ter—can be bred, of­fi­cials not­ed, stress­ing that these steps should be tak­en with­out tram­pling on breed­ers’ and farm­ers’ rights.


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Global warming could have a “potentially catastrophic” long-term impact on food production, with poor people most at risk, a U.N. agency is warning. The effects are “are expected to increasingly hit the developing world… action is needed now to prepare,” the The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization warned on March 31 in a submission to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Currently the world is focused on dealing with shorter-term climate impacts caused mainly by extreme weather events,” said Alexander Müller, the FAO’s assistant-director general for natural resources. “But ‘slow-onset’ impacts are expected to bring deeper changes that challenge the ecosystem services needed for agriculture, with potentially disastrous impacts… from 2050 to 2100.” “While these changes occur gradually and take time… we can’t simply ignore them,” he added. “We need to move beyond our usual tendency to take a short-term perspective.” Food production systems, and the ecosystems they depend on, are highly sensitive to climate variability and climate change, scientists say. Changes in temperature, precipitation and related outbreaks of pest and diseases can reduce production. Poor people in countries that depend on food imports are particularly vulnerable to such effects, the agency warned. The FAO outlined preparatory steps that governments could consider. A key one is to develop food varieties better adapted to expected future climatic conditions. Plant genetic material stored in gene banks should be screened with future requirements in mind, officials said. Additional plant genetic resources, including those from wild relatives of food crops, should be collected and studied because of the risk that they may disappear, they added. Climate-adapted crops—for example varieties of major cereals that are resistant to heat, drought, submergence and salty water—can be bred, officials noted, stressing that these steps should be taken without trampling on breeders’ and farmers’ rights.