Climate crisis could threaten a third of global food production, according to study

A study published in One Earth estimates that a third of global food production is greatly threatened by the climate crisis. This new estimate indicates that towards the end of this century the climate conditions could suffer such alteration that a lot of the food we currently produce would not be growable on the land where we currently cultivate it.

The researchers of this new study have developed a concept to help explain the issue: It’s about a “safe climatic space”, they say, a combination of climate conditions that have been stable for thousands of years and that have allowed our agricultural practices to flourish. This concept incorporates the decisive climatic factors of agricultural production: precipitation, temperature, and aridity. Outside of these conditions, a lot of our harvests—and the animals we farm and exploit for human consumption—have low resilience to cope with that change.

The land that is currently in this “safe climatic space” is responsible for 95% of current food production. Towards the end of the century, increasing instability of this stable climate space could risk the production of 31% of crops and 34% of farmed animals, respectively. The more the conditions continue to change, the greater the percent of food production that will be affected.

If climate change doesn’t stay below the maximum limit of global temperature rise, 1.5°C–2°C, we’ll be entering entirely unprecedented times, and researchers aren’t certain how this will affect us. Thus, they recommend that decision makers establish policies that aim to reduce climate change while increasing sustainable food systems, and thus society’s resilience to this change.

It's ironic that the food system will be heavily impacted by climate change, given that animal agriculture is one of the main contributing factors to this change. Agriculture is responsible for approximately 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture— including livestock and fisheries and grain production for animal food— accounting for more than half of% of this amount. This is why the most important institution tackling climate change in the world, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reports a vegan diet to be the diet with the highest potential for mitigating harmful emissions. This switch can and should be done both through public policies, but also with individual change.