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Food security effects of climate change will be felt in 10 years

Research released today shows that within the next 10 years large parts of Asia can expect increased risk of more severe droughts, which will impact regional and possibly even global food security.

The report, led by the University of Leeds and published by the UK-based Centre for Low Carbon Futures, highlights China, Pakistan and Turkey as the most seriously affected major producers of wheat and maize and urges policymakers to focus attention on climate change adaptation to avert an imminent food crisis.

On average, across Asia, droughts lasting longer than three months will be more than twice as severe in terms of their soil moisture deficit compared to the 1990-2005 period. This is cause for concern as China and India have the world’s largest populations and are Asia’s largest food producers.

The research was led by Professor Piers Forster from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, who is also a lead author on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that have directly informed UN climate negotiations of the latest science.  The study was based on climate change projections from 12 leading climate modelling centres around the world and finds clear signals of climate change emerging within the next 10 years.

Commenting on the results of the analysis Dr Lawrence Jackson, a co-author of the report, said: "Our work surprised us when we saw that the threat to food security was so imminent; the increased risk of severe droughts is only 10 years away for China and India. These are the world’s largest populations and food producers; and, as such, this poses a real threat to food security."

Prof Forster said: “The message for policymakers is clear. The threat to food production in Asia from drought risk brought on by climate change could be felt in the next 10-15 years. Given the slow rate of progress achieved over the 20 years up to the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20), we cannot wait for actions to address the changes in the physical climate if we want to feed the growing Asian population and limit impact on global food security. Immediate actions are needed to achieve more sustainable use of water supplies and enhance adaptive capacity.”

Jon Price, Director of the Centre for Low Carbon Futures, said: “We commissioned this new study because until now most projections on food security and drought have been to the 2050s - far out of range for most policy makers to contemplate. Our report projects impacts for the 2020s. It shows in this period we will see marked increase in drought severity across much of Asia.”

He added: “This new work takes a very different approach to traditional 50 year timescale global scale modelling by highlighting decisions and actions that need to be addressed immediately if we are to avoid the perfect storm on the horizon. What’s new is that we are presenting evidence that drought will impact food production in the near term meaning policy makers no longer have to wait to make crucial  decisions.“

The report Food Security: Near future projections of the impact of drought in Asia is available online at www.lowcarbonfutures.org.

Authors are Prof Piers Forster (University of Leeds), Dr Lawrence Jackson (University of Leeds), Susanne Lorenz (University of Leeds), Dr Elisabeth Simelton (World Agroforestry Centre ICRAF, Hanoi, Vietnam), Prof Evan Fraser (University of Guelph, Canada) and Dr Krishna Bahadur (University of Guelph, Canada).

Notes to editors:

Climate change mitigation is insufficient on its own to safeguard food production with such challenging increases in drought severity in the next 10 years. The report argues that it will be the ability of this region to adapt to climate change and the associated threat to agricultural production which will help reduce future crop losses in the drought years.

Of the major producers of wheat and maize, China was found to be relatively well placed to adapt to climate change and manage the threat to food security. However there is no room for complacency as adaptation demands informed and timely actions from today’s policymakers combined with the local will to change farming practices and invest in new technology.

Whilst India was projected to experience one of the smaller increases in drought risk, its challenging infrastructure means it less able to adapt. Since India is the world's second largest producer of wheat and the seventh largest producer of maize this could impact on global availability of these key crops. The adaptive capacities of other major producers including the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, were also found to be insufficient.

Further information:

Media enquiries to Esther Harward, Press Officer, University of Leeds, +44 113 343 4196 or e.harward@leeds.ac.uk

The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.

The School of Earth and Environment (SEE) was ranked second nationally in terms of research power in earth and environmental sciences in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise. The school is at the forefront in tackling global issues such as climate change, energy, water and sustainable development. Its research is organised across four institutes and two national research centres. www.see.leeds.ac.uk

The Centre for Low Carbon Futures is a collaborative membership organisation that focuses on sustainability for competitive advantage. Founded by the Universities of Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York, the Centre brings together multidisciplinary and evidence-based research to both inform policy formation and to demonstrate low carbon innovations. Research themes are Smart Infrastructure, Energy Systems and the Circular Economy.