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Roz Pidcock

01.12.2015 | 2:45pm
Food and farmingInteractive: How climate change shapes food insecurity across the world
FOOD AND FARMING | December 1. 2015. 14:45
Interactive: How climate change shapes food insecurity across the world

Rising temperatures and more extreme weather are set to increase the pressure on food supplies around the world, risking shortages in the least-developed and developing countries and potentially pushing millions of people into deeper hunger and malnutrition.

This is the message from the Met Office and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), who have joined forces to launch a new interactive map at the COP21 conference underway in Paris.

The graphic lets you see where in the world is already vulnerable to food ‘shocks’, and how the picture changes depending on how much action, if any, we take to reduce our emissions.

It’s a stark demonstration of how climate change could risk food security in future decades compared to today, say the scientists involved.

Low emissions

Start with the map showing the present day. Parts of sub-saharan Africa are dark red, meaning their food supply is already at high risk from climate change. Much of Asia shows medium risk, with lower risk in Central and South America.

If you toggle between ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’ emissions on the left hand side, you can see how the picture changes by 2050 and a few decades further ahead to 2080.

‘Low’ emissions assumes “rapid and sustained” emissions keep global temperature below 2C above pre-industrial levels – the internationally agreed limit (RCP2.6).

The best case scenario, according to the new research, is that the situation in 2050 looks much as it is now, neither improving nor getting much worse. But that’s only possible in the ‘low’ emissions case and if vulnerable regions are able to put in place measures to help them adapt to changing conditions.

Under this low-emissions high-adaptation case, food insecurity even begins to decrease from today’s levels by 2080.

Without adaptation, however, the risk of food insecurity continues to grow by 2050 compared to the present day because of the impacts our past emissions have already locked us into. By 2080, the impacts stabilise and look similar to those in 2050.

The new maps don’t include the most developed nations, very small countries or those that grow little of the food consumed within their borders. For those places, the direct risk of climate change on food security is assumed to be low.

High risk

Now toggle on the left hand side to see what happens in the ‘high’ emissions scenario. This assumes emissions continue at much the same speed as they are now, reaching 4C or more by the end of the century (RCP8.5). Watch the map turn darker red by 2050 and 2080, as the risk of food insecurity grows deeper and affects more places across the world.

If you turn adaptation back on again, the situation improves but not by enough to keep pace with climate change. Many parts of the world are still a deeper red colour than they are today.

According to the Met Office/WFP scientists, the new graphic illustrates how adaptation won’t be enough to counteract the negative impacts of climate change on food security if emissions stay very high, but it can help improve the situation. And if we both mitigate and adapt for decades to come, we can even see food insecurity reduce from today’s levels.

WFP’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin, said in a press release today:

“This map paints a stark picture of how climate disasters drive hunger. This research also reveals a more hopeful future depending on the choices we make – we must help vulnerable people adapt and build their resilience to climate change, while also investing in a low carbon future. The next generation can enjoy greater global food security than we do today but only if leaders get it right in Paris.”

Prof Andy Challinor, professor of climate impacts on food production at the University of Leeds, agrees the new map is a useful and timely resource, telling Carbon Brief:

“This very well-designed, interactive tool provides an immediate way into seeing how climate affects food security, and I think it’s great.”

Nevertheless, food security is a complex issue and looking at it on a country-by-country scale risks losing some of the detail at a more local level, Challinor adds:

“The downside of summarising complex information in this way is that nuances and uncertainties are, by necessity, lost. For example, there are many places in south America with serious climate-induced food security issues, but this is not captured by this approach.”

The Met Office and WFP scientists calculate the risk of food insecurity using 12 complex climate models and 17 different indices, based on countries’ expected exposure to floods and droughts, the sensitivity of their agriculture and cereal crop production to climate-induced hazards and how far they are likely to be able to cope with food ‘shocks’. You can see more about the method the scientists used by clicking on the ‘information’ icon in the top right corner of the map.

Sharelines from this story
  • Interactive: How climate change shapes food insecurity across the world
  • Met Office and World Food Programme interactive shows how climate change shapes food insecurity across the world

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