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    Topic: Food and Climate. Basics.
    topic FOOD AND CLIMATE: BASICS - menu (expand)
    • Food & climate. Basics

      Food & climate. Basics

      Providing sufficient food for the world's people is becoming more difficult as the population exceeds six billion and as land, water, and ecosystems resources are degraded through overuse. Changes in the global pattern of food supply and demand may have consequences throughout the world because of the interdependence of the world's food systems.

      Climate is one of the main factors which controls what natural resources we have and is an important element of sustainable development. Agriculture and water resources are intrinsically linked with climate.

      If the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues, global warming is bound, sooner or later, to warm the Earth's surface sufficiently to affect regional climates. Global warming is also expected to change the patterns of climate variability and increase the occurrence of extreme weather events.  There is now concern that climate change has the potential to affect food production, crop pests and diseases and production costs. The negative impacts are expected to fall disproportionately on the poor.

      In this 'basics' section of the Food and Climate unit, we will explain how changes in climate might affect food production.  We will also look at the ways in which climate affects plant growth and food production systems around the world.

      About this page:
      author: Marta Moneo and Dr. Ana Iglesias - Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, España
      1. scientific reviewer: Alex de Sherbinin - CIESIN, Columbia University, USA
      2. scientific reviewer: Lily Parshall - Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, USA
      educational reviewer: Emilio Sternfeld - Colegio Virgen de Mirasierra, España
      last published: 2004-05-12

      • 1. Plants and climate

        1. Plants and climate

        Why is climate change of concern in agriculture?

        Agricultural success is dependent on climate because heat, light, and water are the main drivers of crop growth.  Plant diseases and pest infestations, as well as the water needed for irrigation, are also governed by climate.

        The total amount of food produced in the world varies from year to year, largely as a result of weather conditions.  Some agricultural regions are more sensitive to changes in weather than others.  The most sensitive regions are often in the developing countries where less advanced technology is available to prevent floods and to minimise the impact of droughts and where soils, terrain and climate are less suited to agriculture.

        What is the main task nowadays?

        The main task today is to identify the regions which are most likely to be vulnerable to climate change.  This will, hopefully, allow regions to adapt so that the impact of climate change is minimised.

        1. Farmland landscape in North America.
        Photo by USDA NRCS

        About this page:
        author: Marta Moneo and Dr. Ana Iglesias - Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, España
        1. scientific reviewer: Alex de Sherbinin - CIESIN, Columbia University, USA
        2. scientific reviewer: Lily Parshall - Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, USA
        educational reviewer: Emilio Sternfeld - Colegio Virgen de Mirasierra, España
        last published: 2004-05-12

      • 2. The climate change issue

        2. The climate change issue

        Climate change is an important environmental issue today.  Our actions now will affect the future of our planet.  We have to decide today what we want our future to be like and how we go about achieving this aim.

        1. Sectors that would be seriously affected by climate change.

        Changes in climate affect:

        Ecosystems. Both plants and animals are affected by the temperature and precipitation regimes where they live.  For example, birds from Northern Africa migrate to Southern Europe in the the early summer to avoid the high summer heat in Northern Africa.  If Africa becomes hotter, the birds will have to migrate earlier in the season and will have to face a different environment in Europe and will have to compete with other species for food.  These changes may result in habitat reduction and even the disappearance of some species.

        Food Production. The food we eat comes directly or indirectly from plant production. We eat plants directly (e.g. wheat, rice, potatoes, vegetables and fruits) or indirectly (by eating meat that comes from animals that have eaten corn, soyabeans or grass). All plants are affected by the temperature and precipitation regimes where they are grown. For example, rice is the staple food for the Asian population. If southern Asia becomes too hot for rice cultivation, many people will be at risk of malnutrition.

        Water Resources. Rainfall directly affects the amount of water in rivers and lakes and temperature affects how the water evaporates and how it is used. Humans and ecosystems rely on the availability of water and many regions of the globe suffer severe water shortages now.  The health issues related to potential reductions in water quantity and quality are enormous.

         Economy. Almost all sectors of the economy are affected directly or indirectly by climate. A few examples include:  Insurance companies may not insure buildings in areas where flood risk increases.  Energy requirements for air conditioning will increase with great implications for the energy sector.  Tourism will also be affected.  Many winter sports resorts will close as less snow is predicted in the Alps.

         

        About this page:

        author: Marta Moneo and Dr. Ana Iglesias - Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, España
        1. scientific reviewer: Alex de Sherbinin - CIESIN, Columbia University, USA
        2. scientific reviewer: Lily Parshall - Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, USA
        educational reviewer: Emilio Sternfeld - Colegio Virgen de Mirasierra, España
        last published: 2004-05-12

      • 3. Drought in the Mediterranean

        3. Drought in the Mediterranean

        Drought is a severe problem in the Mediterranean due to the huge growth in population in the region and the resultant increased need for water for agriculture and life.  It has also proved very hard to change people's habits in order to reduce water consumption.

        1. Limits of the Mediterranean basin.  Source FAO.

        What is exactly the Mediterranean basin?

        This map shows all the countries which make up the Mediterranean basin.  They include countries in Southern Europe, in  Northern Africa and countries on then east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan.

        Although these countries are very different from one another culturally and politically, they share a similar climate with very particular characteristics.  The impact of climate change on agriculture in all of these countries will be similar and a common solution would be to improve water use in this very important sector of the economy.

        One major problem we have a the moment is forecasting exactly when a drought or flood will occur.  This makes it very difficult to decide how to use water sensibly.

        2. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI).  G. Begni, MEDIAS-France.

        This satellite image shows the Mediterranean basin from space and gives a good idea how water is distributed in this region.  Its easy to see the green areas with high plant growth in Northern Europe, turning into brown areas with low plant growth in Southern Europe and the desert areas in North Africa. 

        About this page:
        author: Marta Moneo and Dr. Ana Iglesias - Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, España
        1. scientific reviewer: Alex de Sherbinin - CIESIN, Columbia University, USA
        2. scientific reviewer: Lily Parshall - Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, USA
        educational reviewer: Emilio Sternfeld - Colegio Virgen de Mirasierra, España
        last published: 2004-05-12