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Climate change may affect global food costs - and vulnerability to hunger

11/09/2015 - Unabated man-made climate change would likely increase the risk of hunger through rising food costs, a paper by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Impact (PIK) shows. The findings contribute to a major World Bank Report now published. The Potsdam paper investigates three key regions vulnerable to hunger – Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa – and shows that each region faces severe problems already by 2030, but that the structure of the problems strongly differs. The risks substantially increase over time if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, according to the computer simulations.
Climate change may affect global food costs - and vulnerability to hunger

Cover of the Worldbank Report

The Wordbank report “Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty” finds that poor people are already at high risk from climate-related shocks, including crop failures from reduced rainfall, spikes in food prices after extreme weather events, and increased incidence of diseases after heat waves and floods. It says such shocks could wipe out hard-won gains, leading to irreversible losses, driving people back into poverty, particularly in Africa and South Asia. “This report sends a clear message that ending poverty will not be possible unless we take strong action to reduce the threat of climate change on poor people and dramatically reduce harmful emissions,” says World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Climate change hits the poorest the hardest, and our challenge now is to protect tens of millions of people from falling into extreme poverty because of a changing climate.”

The Potsdam background paper investigates the impact of climate change on hunger through the analysis of food costs. Crop yields are projected to be affected by climate change, but the effect strongly differs from one region to another.  “We found that by 2030 the impact of climate change is most severe in Middle East and North Africa, where food costs may increase between 17 percent and 35 percent, depending on the scenario of population growth and economic development we use,” says Anne Biewald, lead-author of the PIK study. “Fortunately for this region, projected economic growth may be rather strong and thus avoid a huge increase in hunger.” 

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of climate change on food costs may be less severe in the short term. But low economic growth projected for this region may place between 60-90 percent of the population at serious risk of hunger. Only a part of these people will also be affected by negative climate change. This is due to the relatively good ability of the region to adapt to climate change, mainly by shifting production to marginally or positively affected areas. Unfortunately, this will only work for the short-time horizon until 2030.

In the long run, the situation may become even more serious. By 2080, the study finds that negative impacts of climate change on crop yields may lead to increasing average global costs of food between 50 and 130 percent. While this is a wide range, it illustrates the huge risks people may have to face.

The resulting challenges are severe. “Adaptation can and must include shifting production to higher-yielding areas, changes in food trade and investing in yield-increasing  and well adapted agricultural technologies,” says Hermann Lotze-Campen, chair of PIK’s Research Domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities. “This would help stabilize food production, yet only to a limited extent, and it may contribute to rising production costs.” To compute the specific impacts of climate change as a single factor on under-nourishment is not yet possible. “But it is very likely that global warming  will increase vulnerability to hunger of many million poor people on our planet.”

Link to the Worldbank Report "Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty" and further information:

Link to all 14 commissioned background papers:

Link to the PIK report:
Biewald, A., Lotze-Campen, H., Otto, I., Brinckmann, N., Bodirsky, B., Weindl, I., Popp, A., Schellnhuber, H.J.: The impact of climate change on costs of food and people exposed to hunger at subnational scale. PIK-Report No.128


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