Scientists warn of breadbasket failure because of climate change

The climate change-driven extremes could further worsen a global food supply situation already threatened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Last Updated 05 September 2022, 16:54 IST

The summer’s extreme heatwaves, floods and drought across the world’s major crop-producing zones have slashed harvest forecasts, with experts warning of rising food prices and worsening hunger, amid scientific concerns of an era of climate change-driven simultaneous food supply failures.

The climate change-driven extremes could further worsen a global food supply situation already threatened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the World Food Programme warning that climate change is now driving global hunger. In India, extreme temperatures starting in March and extending over several weeks damaged crops and reduced yields. The rice farming area is 8 per cent smaller than last season due to lack of rainfall in some places.India is responsible for 40 per cent of the world’s rice trade and the world’s biggest exporter.

In addition to the heatwave, the country also experienced decreased rains, with rainfall levels 71 per cent below average. Vegetable yields in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir were reduced by 40-50 per cent.

The ongoing floods in Pakistan will also hit food production. Rice harvests are expected to fall about 31 per cent, which will have international consequences, as the country is the world’s 4th-largest exporter of the grain. Key vegetables, like onions and tomatoes, have also been hit.

"Climate scientists have found that rising global temperatures will heighten the risk of simultaneous crop failures in major food-producing regions - known as multi-breadbasket failures or simultaneous food supply shocks - as we may be seeing this year," according to a note by experts.

Kai Kornhuber, research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia Climate School, said: “Climate change leads to more intense and more frequent extreme weather and climate events such as heatwaves, intense rains and prolonged drought conditions. This increase translates to a higher probability of extremes occurring directly after another or simultaneously locally and across the globe which can amplify their impacts. Climate change increases the likelihood of extreme weather events occurring in near concurrence, as witnessed in the Northern hemisphere this year, which relates to higher chance of multiple breadbaskets being affected within their respective growing season. with potential risks to global food security."

Zia Mehrabi, assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder, said: “Climate change is a major threat to our food systems. We know that extreme events will get worse in the future and we’ll see them happening across multiple regions at the same time. Doing nothing on climate change today puts our children’s future at risk. We are already seeing multiple hazards threatening crops, livestock and fisheries and this is something that is not going to go away unless we get serious about climate change, and fast."

Gernot Laganda, Director of Climate at the United Nations World Food Programme, said: “Climate change is an important driver in the current increase in global hunger. Right now, 345 million people are facing acute food insecurity – which is an increase from 135 million since 2019. Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis are struggling to cope with extreme weather events, which are following each other at increasing speed. In the Horn of Africa, for example, we are expecting a 5th consecutive failure of the rainfall season, which is pushing more than 20 million people into emergency levels of hunger. Or let’s look at Pakistan, which has faced extreme heatwaves earlier this year that are now followed by large amounts of intense rainfall. This is causing some of the worst flash flooding the country has ever seen."

(Published 05 September 2022, 11:17 IST)

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