Eating More With Less: Leaked IPCC Report Confirms Climate Change Will Shrink World’s Food Supply

CREDIT: AP/Hassan Ammar

Mideast Egypt Wheat Politics

CREDIT: AP/Hassan Ammar

Climate change will seriously damage the world’s ability to feed itself in the coming decades, according to a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The draft report, which is set to be released in March but was leaked online Friday, also confirmed previous studies’ findings that climate change could exacerbate poverty, strain water supplies, make extreme weather more common and increase conflict around the world. Cities are most vulnerable to climate change’s effects, according to the report, along with the world’s most impoverished communities.

“Throughout the 21st century, climate change impacts will slow down economic growth and poverty reduction, further erode food security and trigger new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report reads. “Climate change will exacerbate poverty in low- and lower-middle income countries and create new poverty pockets in upper-middle to high-income countries with increasing inequality.”

Here are some of the report’s predictions:

Food: As the climate changes, the world’s agricultural areas will shift, causing an overall decline in agricultural production. The report predicts that food production will decrease by up to 2 percent each decade for the rest of the 21st century, while global food demand is projected to rise by as much as 14 percent each decade, as the world’s population swells to a projected 9.6 billion in 2050. Extreme weather — especially drought — will also pose an increasing risk to food supplies as the planet warms.

Water: For every degree increase in temperature, an additional 7 percent of the world’s population will see a decline in water resources of 20 percent, the report predicts. Climate change is also expected to worsen water quality in some places due to sediment and pollutant inflows from increasingly heavy rainstorms. Increasing temperatures will also put serious strain on freshwater and marine species: the report notes that many species “will be unable to move fast enough” to escape warming under mid- and high-level warming scenarios. Ocean acidification, too, poses a huge risk to marine species, and these compounded threats lead the report to conclude that any policies aimed at protecting water ecosystems can only reduce — not eliminate — the dangers they face.

Threats to cities: Urban centers are at risk from some of the worst realities of climate change, including heat waves, flooding, and sea level rise, extreme weather and drought. Already in the U.S., cities like New York have battled extreme weather and heat waves, and coastal cities are particularly at risk from flooding and sea level rise.

Threats to health: Climate change will exacerbate already-existing health problems throughout the 21st century, and humans will be more likely to die from wildfires, heat waves, lack of food in impoverished areas and disease vectors like mosquitoes, which are already expanding their ranges.

Violent conflict: Through its relation to poverty and price shocks, climate change “indirectly increases risks from violent conflict,” including civil war and violent protests, the report states. Climate change will also increasingly shape national security policy around the world, the report predicts.

The report’s findings echo those of many other reports on climate change’s effect on food and water security, extreme weather, health and violence. The report does note that various levels of governments around the world have begun to take climate adaptation seriously, in the hopes of avoiding some of the worst effects of climate change. But overall, Justin Gillis at the New York Times notes that the leaked report is the “sharpest in tone” of all the IPCC reports, with previous reports from the agency taking more hopeful stances.