Foreign Policy Blogs

Three new reports challenge food security forecasts

What can we expect for the future of global food security when factoring in the impact of global warming, population and consumption patterns?  Recently published reports may help illuminate the discussion.

Researchers at Stanford University and Columbia University analyzed the impact that global warming has had on food production from 1980 to 2008.  The study concluded that while the results of global warming has spurred crop growth in some places, its net negative impact has led to a 6% increase on the price of corn, rice, soybean and wheat crops.

“At today’s grain prices, that calculation implies that climate change is costing consumers, food companies and livestock producers about $60 billion a year.

‘We aren’t talking about the sky falling,’ [report author] Dr. Lobell said. ‘But we are talking about billions of dollars of losses. Every little bit of production is valuable when we’re trying to feed the world.'”

The report’s authors called the $60 billion per year cost of climate change on food prices “conservative,” but ultimately “a small contributor to a large trend” in the rise in the price of food that is also affected significantly by biofuel production and “extreme weather that may or may not be linked to climate change.”

Another significant factor is an increasing population.  A new report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) predicts that the global population will reach 10.1 billion by 2100.  According to the World Bank, it had previously taken 20 years to record an increase of roughly 1.5 billion people, but UN DESA’s director of the population division Hania Zlotnick finds the numbers disquieting because the population is surging in areas which will feel the strain on resources more acutely.

“High-fertility countries tended to be small, poor and racked by conflict, and the concern was that if they did not achieve their projected fertility reductions, they would have serious problems, including over food availability and affordability.”

Another unexpected factor is current consumption patterns.  The FAO announced last week that one-third of all food produced each year is wasted.  The waste occurs during the food’s production, transport and by consumers who discard usable food.

“So Malthus looks beatable even when he sits astride the apocalyptic horse of climate change,” according to  The Economist.  In other words, dire predictions about global warming, population and consumption patterns can be countered by more efficient agriculture, transportation, access to markets, and food usage.  Still, The Economist warns, “That climate change has not yet done very much harm may be cheering, but the past offers no firm guarantees for the future.”

Posted by Michael Lucivero.