How will climate change affect food production?

This Q&A is part of the Guardian’s ultimate climate change FAQ

Food is one of society’s key sensitivities to climate. A year of not enough or too much rainfall, a hot spell or cold snap at the wrong time, or extremes, like flooding and storms, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production. While modern farming technologies and techniques have helped to reduce this vulnerability and boost production, the impact of recent droughts in the USA, China and Russia on global cereal production highlight a glaring potential future vulnerability….

What does climate change mean for food security – the price and availability of food for the world’s seven billion people? A 2011 Foresight report concluded that climate change is a relatively small factor here, at least in the short term, when compared with the rapid increases in global food demand expected in the next decade. On current projections, by 2050 there will be between one and three billion additional mouths to feed. As people become wealthier, they also demand more food and disproportionately more meat, which requires far more land and water resources per calorie consumed. When these factors are combined, it points toward a future of increasing and more volatile food prices.

As was seen during the 2007–08 food price spikes, the poorest countries and communities will be hit first and hardest. The Foresight report concluded that international policy has an important role to play here –today, despite plentiful supplies of food globally, almost one billion people are undernourished.

Food production itself is a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as a cause of environmental degradation in many parts of the world. Agriculture contributes about 15% of all emissions, on a par with transport. When land conversion and the wider food system are taken into account the total contribution of food may be as high as 30%. This means that to limit the long-run impacts of climate change, food production must become not only more resilient to climate but also more sustainable and low-carbon itself.

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