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Climate report forecasts global food shortages by 2020

posted 18 Jan 2011, 12:58 by Mpelembe   [ updated 18 Jan 2011, 13:02 ]

According to non-profit group, the Universal Ecological Fund, the world will be faced with food shortages by 2020 if, as a UN-backed panel has predicted, global temperatures rise by 2.4 degrees Celsius over the next ten years. The group's analysis of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) data has concluded that population growth and warmer temperatures will have a a dramatic impact on food production and prices, if current trends continue.

The dusty plains of Mexico and Latin America have provided a reliable source of meat to the region for decades. Agriculture accounts for approximately ten percent of Latin America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs up to 40 percent of the population. But according to a report by the Universal Ecological Fund, called "The Food Gap", increasing temperatures over the next ten years threatens livestock and crop production not just in Latin America but around the world.

The report makes it case on the basis of data and official documents already published by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The panel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its "efforts to build up an disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

According to the Universal Ecological Fund's Liliana Hisas, the report synthesises the IPCC's data in an accessible way. Assuming a "business as usual" approach to climate change policy, she says it paints a bleak picture.

"By putting together and combining the impacts of climate change, population growth and the current numbers of production of the four major crops and projecting that into a ten year time frame, the conclusions are not very good. There's going to be deficit in three of the four major crops being wheat, rice and maize and the only one showing a surplus is soy bean. This is not good.", she said.

Former co-chair of Working Group II of the IPCC and Nobel laureate, Dr. Osvaldo Canziani was closely involved in the study. He says the data points clearly to an emerging crisis. He says global changes in rainfall patterns are influencing water balances and causing either extreme drought or extreme flooding in key agricultural regions. The causes, he says are man-made it will be Africa where the affects will have the most impact.

"Africa is the region that will be most affected, for different reasons. It is a continent which will have a duplication of the population in a few decades. Latin America will keep [the same] population. Asia - South-East Asia - is a problem. So we have the focal points there. Nevertheless we have to realize that if other regions that are producing the foodstuff are affected, even if they maintain population, we will need to defend that."

The report predicts that by 2020 the combination of climate change and population growth will hit many individual crops hard. It says global wheat production will experience a 14 percent deficit between production and demand; global rice production an 11 percent deficit; and a nine percent deficit in maize (corn) production. Soybean is the only crop showing an increase in global production, with an estimated five percent surplus. Under the current distribution patterns the reports says, global food production would not be enough to fully meet the food requirements of 7.8 billion people estimated to inhabit the world in the next decade -about 900 million additional people. If global action is not taken to curb the use of fossil fuels, says Hisas, there can be little hope for improvement.

"Nine hundred million additional people will beliving in the world by 2020. The demand of the current population plus this additional will have to be met. How are we going to do that", she said.

Hisas points to January's disastrous flooding in Australia as evidence of climate change and it's impact. Australian scientists say that climate change has likely intensified the rains that have triggered record floods in the states of Queensland and Victoria and while both Hisas and Canziani expect sceptics to question their findings, they say the evidence of global warming and their data are strong enough to justify precautionary action.

"Well as a matter of fact the formulas and the scenarios, as they say, present a certain degree of certainty. But we have to be careful with all the projections but realize there's a precautionary action to be taken. We cannot wait for when it is pointing exactly to 2.4."

The "Food Gap" report says that currently, eighty percent of global agriculture depends on rain, yet rain is falling with greater than normal intensity in some areas, while barely appearing in others.

Hisas says the problem can only be addressed when governments around the world act to reduce global greenhouse emissions and populations change their way of life, inlcuding their diets, to the new reealities of a warmer climate.