The Future of Food, The Planet and Humanity
Climate change is poised to have a devastating impact on the food system. It's no secret that drought and water scarcity are becoming more frequent and severe as the planet warms, prompting scientists to warn of a 30% drop in global food production by 2050. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening resilience to climate impacts is critical — but so is planning for these risks. In this weeks newsletter, we explore what you can expect on a drier planet, strategies for predicting and planning for the future of food.
Climate Change and Food Security
The complex and multifaceted impacts of climate change on food security mean that the food system will be affected in myriad ways. According to the IPCC's special report on climate change and food published back in 2019, climate change will affect three principal dimensions of food security: availability, access, and utilization. Food availability will be affected by changes in regional yields due to changes in both temperature and precipitation, as well as changes in pests, diseases, and weeds. Food access will be affected by changes in dietary requirements, availability and quality of food, and indeed the cost of food.
Food utilization will be affected by changes in the nutritional value of food, as well as changes in the amount and type of food thrown away.
Strategies for predicting and planning for the future of food
As the complexity and scale of the impacts of climate change on food security increases, so too does the need for actionable and informed strategies for predicting and planning for the future of food. Investing in science-informed models and tools that help us understand future food systems — and how they might vary under different climate and development scenarios — can help us make more informed decisions about how we might adapt to a drier planet. These models and tools can be used to anticipate and avoid the worst impacts of climate change while also fostering innovation and experimentation around climate-smart practices and technologies.
Decreased Food Availability
The drop in global food availability predicted by 2050 is largely attributable to a projected decrease in the availability of water and land for crop production. However, food demand is expected to increase as the world's population grows, as well as an increase in per capita consumption. Furthermore, the diet of the future is expected to be richer in proteins and other essential nutrients, which will pose additional challenges for ensuring global food security. Given these challenges, it's critical that we invest in technologies and strategies for conserving and managing water and land resources more effectively.
Ancient Grains: Drought Resistant Crops
A lot of attention is being paid to drought-tolerant crops and varieties, as well as crops that can be grown in dry and desert-like conditions. In the US, the National Research Council has been working with other government agencies and the private sector to identify the most promising varieties of drought-tolerant crops, such as sorghum, millet, and sunflower. Outside of the US, several organizations are also working with local communities to increase their resilience to climate impacts, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and the International Development Research Center (IDRC).
Increase in Extreme Weather Events
One of the most important things to consider when thinking about the future of food is the increase in extreme weather events - which we've all witnessed taking hold right across the globe, including floods, droughts, and heat waves, which can have devastating impacts on food production and distribution.
The damages caused by these events can be exacerbated by how our food system is currently organized, particularly with respect to how we store and transport our food. Moreover, with the predicted increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, the need for strategies to mitigate their impacts becomes even more critical.
As the planet continues to warm, we can expect significant changes to our food system, including water scarcity and extreme weather events. The good news is that we are better positioned than ever to meet this challenge. Climate scientists and researchers have developed new models and tools that help us understand future food systems, as well as how they might vary under different climate and development scenarios. Using these tools, it's possible to anticipate and avoid the worst impacts of climate change while also fostering innovation and experimentation around climate-smart practices and technologies.