Global perspectives

The previous section showed that the question whether sufficient food can be produced is associated with many uncertainties. On top of this will be the impact of climate change. It has been demonstrated that the impact of climate change will be minor in comparison to changes in population and socio-economic issues (e.g. Vorosmarty et al., 2000). One important issue ignored in these analyses is that changes in population and socio-economic issues are gradual. Climate change also includes such gradual change, but more important is that extreme weather events are expected to increase substantially. These extremes are very difficult to cope with in the context of food production in particular.

A recent FAO study (FAO, 2002b) claims that in the next three decades, climate change is not expected to depress global food availability, but it may increase the dependence of developing countries on food imports and accentuate food insecurity for vulnerable groups and countries. The study indicates that the percentage of undernourished people will fall from the current figure of 17% to 11% in 2015 and 6% by 2030. This seems a positive projection. However, the target set by the World Food Summit in 1996 and reiterated as a Millennium Goal - of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 - is not going to be met unless major corrective efforts are made. In terms of water requirements, the projections for developing countries indicate a 14% increase in water withdrawals for irrigation by 2030.

In contrast to these figures, results presented by the International Food Policy Research Institute (Rosegrant et al., 2002) show that the increase in water withdrawals for irrigation can only be 4%, mainly as a result of water shortages. In their business as usual strategy, farmers will produce 10% less cereals, pushing up food prices sharply. The authors continue that it is possible to envision a sustainable water strategy that would dramatically increase water allocated to environmental uses, connect all urban households to piped water, and achieve higher per capita domestic water consumption, while maintaining food production at the levels described in the business as usual strategy.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), together with FAO, presented a study based on their GAEZ approach (Global Agro-Ecological Zoning), which has a strong focus on lands, including several Global Circulation

Model (GCM) projections (Fischer et al., 2001). The evaluation of the impact of climate change on production, consumption and trade of agricultural commodities, in particular on staple food, was carried out with a large number of experiments that relate to four aspects: magnitude of climate change for different future socioeconomic and technical development paths; uncertainty of results in view of differences in climate projections of different GCM groups; robustness of results with regard to altered economic growth assumptions; and sensitivity of results to different assumptions with regard to physiological effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment on yields. Some 50 simulation experiments were carried out, including three separate snapshots of climatic change for the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s. Their results indicate that the impacts of climate change on crop production are geographically unevenly distributed. Developed countries experience an increase in productivity. In contrast, developing regions suffer a loss in cereal productivity in all estimates. Within the group of developed countries, gains of 3-10% in cereal productivity occur for North America, and similar for the Former Soviet Union. Western Europe suffers losses in most projections of up to 6%.

The IIASA study continues that in terms of food security fairly robust conclusions emerge from the analysis of climate-change impacts. First, climate change will most likely increase the number of people at risk of hunger. Secondly, the importance and significance of the climate-change impact on the level of undernourishment depends largely on the level of economic development assumed in the strategies.

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