Climate change could trigger a global food crisis, new U.N. report

If climate change is left unchecked, rising temperatures, extreme weather, and land degradation could trigger a global food crisis, according to a report by the United Nations. The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined how agriculture will be affected by global warming, as well as how food production and other changes in land use are expected to contribute to climate change in the future. The U.N. group has suggested this could happen by the end of the century – oh dear, another crisis.

First off, this climate change report from the U.N. is massive. It looks like it came from a team of over 80 authors, creating hundreds and hundreds of pages of reports. Who could expect anybody to read it all, but you might make it through the summary, it’s only 41 pages. This Special Report on Climate Change and Land responds to a decision in 2016 to prepare three Special Reports during the Sixth Assessment cycle, taking account of proposals from governments and observer organizations. This report addresses greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in land-based ecosystems, land use, and sustainable land management in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation, and food security.

I did not find the summary particularly that useful. It merely categorizes these issues between very high, high and medium confidences. The bottom line to the summary I guess is, climate change is coming panic! And oh, by the way, we probably will need a bigger budget next year – a lot of mouths to feed.

Now we know we have a lot of climate change skeptics out there, our objectives here at News Forecasters is not to prove or disprove climate change, asses human impacts to climate change, nor proposed solutions – rather look at whether a global food crisis is likely to happen (perhaps a view from different sources) and what it might look like.

Using corn as a proxy for food stocks, we can see by the insert chart that global agricultural producers in the past have been able to keep pace with the growing population and demand. This has largely been accomplished through improved agricultural technology and management. Also, free-market mechanisms, with some government help, has been an important management driver. News Forecasters believe that there is no reason that this trend can’t continue.

In this inset chart, we can see from the USDA, that agricultural productivity will mostly keep track with required productivity needed in the developed world. The current gaps seen are less than 10% and could be well within the margin of error and/or could be made up of other mechanisms. As you might expect, the problems will be coming from emerging markets, the low-income countries. A 50% gap between the projected rate and the required rate of productivity is significant.

Looking at the cost of food compared to the percent of income in the U.S. (similar to other developed countries), it has come down significantly in the past 50 years. However, this downward trend has leveled off and is expected to stabilize at current levels. This means that consumers probably won’t see productivity gains coming through to their personal household budgets. Hence food inflation will be a more significant issue for these households in the coming future. For emerging markets, they will begin to see significant productivity gains in their household budgets.

So just where is the crisis, when looking at our summary? Despite the climate change issues, News Forecasters sees no direct crisis in the developed world. For emerging markets this is not the case – the crisis, in fact, may be coming. Though climate change may be a large factor, the real problem is exploding demographics and poor government management (even corruption) in these low income emerging market countries. The technology to solve these problems would be there, if only they could be applied.

Since we live in a global village, developed countries cannot ignore emerging market problems. It will spill over into immigration issues and even resource wars in potential regional conflicts. Though these problems have always existed they will exacerbate over the next 50-years.

A video presentation of this subject:

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