A report issued by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this year noted that human use directly affects more than 70% (likely 69-76%) of the global, ice free land surface. Published in August 2019, this report said that data available since 1961 shows the per capita supply of vegetable oils and meat has more than doubled and the supply of food calories per capita has increased by about one third. Currently, said the report, 25-30% of total food produced is lost or wasted. Changes in consumption patterns have contributed to about 2 billion adults now being overweight or obese and an estimated 821 million people are still undernourished. “These factors are associated with additional GHG emissions” said the IPCC report.
An earlier report by the IPCC, issued in 2008, had said that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration—with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption. The most widely repeated prediction is currently that of 200 million climate refugees by 2050.
Poorest people worst hit by climate change
This 2008 projection seems to have been conservative. The 2019 report stated that climate change “exacerbates land degradation, particularly in low-lying coastal areas, river deltas, drylands and in permafrost areas”. These are the most densely populated areas around the world and support large number of poorer communities. “Over the period 1961-2013, the annual area of drylands in drought has increased, on average by slightly more than 1% per year, with large inter-annual variability. In 2015, about 500 (380-620) million people lived within areas which experienced desertification between the 1980s and 2000s. The highest numbers of people affected are in South and East Asia, the circum-Sahara region including North Africa, and the Middle East including the Arabian Peninsula. Other dryland regions have also experienced desertification. People living in already degraded or decertified areas are increasingly negatively affected by climate change” said the IPCC 2019 report.
Climate change affecting food security
The IPCC 2019 report said that global warming has led to shifts of climate zones in many world regions, including expansion of arid climate zones and contraction of polar climate zones. Climate change can exacerbate land degradation processes including through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, dry spells, wind, sea-level rise and wave action, permafrost thaw with outcomes being modulated by land management. “Ongoing coastal erosion is intensifying and impinging on more regions with sea level rise adding to land use pressure in some regions” warned the IPCC.
The report added that climate change has already affected food security due to warming, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events. “In many lower-latitude regions, yields of some crops (e.g., maize and wheat) have declined, while in many higher-latitude regions, yields of some crops (e.g., maize, wheat and sugar beets) have increased over recent decades. Climate change has resulted in lower animal growth rates and productivity in pastoral systems in Africa” observed the report. There is robust evidence that agricultural pests and diseases have already responded to climate change. “Climate change is projected to alter land conditions with feedbacks on regional climate” concluded the IPCC.