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Food is going to be really expensive in the future, UN report says

With workable land growing scarcer and the weather becoming less predictable, authorities predict future food and water scarcity are nearly unavoidable.

Aug 8, 2019 |
5 min read

While conversions about climate change continue to cause dissension between political bodies, the reality is sinking in. Humanity’s impact on the planet was recently re-assessed by over hundred international representatives working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As it now stands, climate change is set to impact the availability of food across the world.

With workable land growing scarcer and the weather becoming less predictable, the authorities mentioned above predict that future food and water scarcity are nearly unavoidable.

The work of the I.P.P.C.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was brought together by the United Nations. Authorities reached out to applicable experts in sustainability and climate assessment to have them study the impact of greenhouse gases and industrialization on the planet.

As of last year, the I.P.C.C. released a report comparable to the one presented this year. That report outlined not only a potential for food scarcity in the future but all potential consequences that may arise if the planet rises 1.5 degrees Celsius in temperature.

Likewise, the I.P.C.C. has also reported on the status of global oceans. As water temperature increases, a variety of underwater ecosystems are compromised, as are shorelines around the world.

The 2019 report and supporting documents

2019’s report is no less grim. That is, perhaps, the reality of climate change and the research surrounding it. International communities already struggle to find food sources that’ll meet the needs of their populations.

Now, the changing climate – which has now brought on soil loss at a rate of 10 to 100 times faster than its reproduction – is set to compromise those sources further.

The I.P.C.C. report works in tandem with other reports coming out of the United States, South America, and Europe. Studies assessing the production of vegetables and legumes around the world anticipate a fall in yield of 35 percent by 2100.

The study in question here assigns blame to water scarcity, not to mention the increased salinity of the water. Likewise, the United States’ production of corn – which, at present, is used not only to feed citizens but to feed meat animals and to create petrol – will halve if global temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius.

Compliance with the Paris Agreement would help prevent these anticipated rises in temperature. However, as the United States has recently been pulled from that agreement, the impacts of climate change seem even more inevitable than they once did.

Looking to the future

What, specifically, do these consequences look like? According to the 2019 I.P.C.C. report, farmers and agricultural experts around the world, it will become exceptionally more expensive for international communities to purchase food. The lessened production of edible food will come as a consequence of the following:

Droughts – Already, farms from Columbia to California are having to contend with the effects of extreme drought. The water levels of rivers are dropping, and farmers are having to cut their loses to bring in a harvest in the fall. California, specifically, has seen significant financial loss as a result of the ongoing droughts in the area. What was once a $46 billion industry now has to reach out to other sources to ensure that the crops in the area receive the water they need to grow.

Groundwater Depletion – In a similar vein, groundwater levels are dropping at a startling rate. Farmers used to utilize groundwater to water drought-stricken swathes of land. Nowadays, the Ogallala Aquifer beneath the American Great Plains is operating on one-third of its original capacity. Other aquifers around the world, according to N.A.S.A., are looking to be in the same state.


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Storms – While the droughts and groundwater depletion might suggest a lack of thunderstorms around the world, this is not the case. In fact, weather patterns have grown more extreme as greenhouse levels within the ozone have begun to rise. The infamous Superstorm Sandy serves as just one example of how hurricanes, nowadays, are striking shorelines with a renewed ferocity. Where areas are not drying up, they are flooding, ruining the root systems of crops that can survive in the area.

Pests – Where crops are failing, weeds, fungus, and pests are thriving. Non-edible weeds are predicted to move onto protected land within fifteen years. As ecosystems begin to shift, too, bacteria and pests that were once restricted in their movement are traveling at a rate of two miles a year.

Taking action

None of that is especially hope-inspiring. Climate change, after all, has been said to inspire denial or despair since the term first began to circulate.

However, the I.P.C.C. report offers its readers a silver lining. There are ways to limit the consequences of climate change, even if some are now unavoidable.

The experts behind the report make it clear that the agricultural industry would have to see a significant transformation to thrive in the coming years, but if changes were implemented, crop production wouldn’t falter in the extreme ways currently predicted.

Improved land management – Agricultural land management allows the farmers seeing the consequences of climate change first hand the move to preserve their crops while also impacting global emissions. To combat the future that the I.P.C.C. predicts, these communities ideally need to be rewarded for their lessened use of environmentally-dangerous fertilizers. Likewise, they’re encouraged to rotate cash crops out with crops that positively contribute to the amount of carbon held in the soil.

Reducing waste – The researchers at I.P.C.C. note, in unison with other sources, that consumers and big businesses currently waste one-quarter of all of the food produced around the world. Behavioral changes met with institutional changes could see less food scarcity in the future, offering a social solution to an ecological problem.

Revolutionary Reconstruction –The meat and dairy industries rank alongside international militaries and Fortune 500 corporations in their production of greenhouse gases. These two industries produce 14.5 percent of the greenhouses released into the atmosphere alone.

While some voices would argue that communities simply need to reduce their consumption of these products to lessen their carbon footprint, this is not entirely the case. The meat and dairy industries require significant operational reconstruction if they’re to reduce their negative outputs.

This would include improved animal care, a lessening of product output, and conversions to renewable power.

Regardless of political posturing, the impacts of climate change cannot be ignored. The I.P.C.C.’s latest report suggests that there is hope for the future. That said, if food prices are to remain accessible to everyone, the world needs to act to ensure that there’ll be enough for everyone who comes to the table.

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