Wednesday, June 24, 2015

New Research Warns of Catastrophic Food Shortages Due to Unchecked Climate Change - by Joe Romm

Caked soil (Credit: Shutterstock) Click to Enlarge.
New research supported by the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office and insurer Lloyd’s of London finds that, absent major changes, humanity risks a catastrophic collapse in its ability to feed itself by mid-century, due in significant part to human-caused climate change.

Last year, the United Nations’ “highly conservative” IPCC climate panel warned that humanity is risking a “breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes” on its current path of unrestricted carbon pollution.  Many studies in the last 12 months have strengthened the scientific case (see this, for instance).

The new research is from the Global Resource Observatory, a project of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute (GSI) partnering with the UK government’s Foreign Office; Lloyds of London; a “coalition of leaders from business, politics and civil society”; the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries; and both the Africa and Asian Development Banks.

The GSI group does business-as-usual forecasting using system dynamics modeling — arguably the only type of modeling that treats feedbacks and time delays well enough to even approximate what is coming.  GSI Director Aled Jones explains that the group “ran the model forward to the year 2040.”  The results were stunning:
The results show that based on plausible climate trends, and a total failure to change course, the global food supply system would face catastrophic losses, and an unprecedented epidemic of food riots.  In this scenario, global society essentially collapses as food production falls permanently short of consumption.
The “good” news:  that only happens if humanity doesn’t actually do any serious planning for this outcome — and doesn’t do any serious reacting as it plays out.  But homo sapiens isn’t a “brainless frog,” are we?

The GSI group also does the scenario planning underpinning a new Lloyd’s of London report “Food System Shock:  The insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply.”
Here is Lloyd’s summary of the impact of this shock:
Wheat, maize and soybean prices increase to quadruple the levels seen around 2000.  Rice prices increase 500% as India starts to try to buy from smaller exporters following restrictions imposed by Thailand.  Public agricultural commodity stocks increase 100% in share value, agricultural chemical stocks rise 500% and agriculture engineering supply chain stocks rise 150%.  Food riots break out in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America. The euro weakens and the main European stock markets lose 10% of their value; US stock markets follow and lose 5% of their value.
Read more at New Research Warns of Catastrophic Food Shortages Due to Unchecked Climate Change

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