Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section you will find an answer to frequently asked questions on the topic of sustainable food production in a changing environment.

1. Is the environment changing?

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the warming of the atmosphere and ocean system is unequivocal and it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming from the mid-20th century.

2. What is Climate Change?

Climate change is the term used to describe the significant long term change in global or regional weather patterns from the mid 20th century onward. These changes in climate are occurring more rapidly than normal and scientists are worried about the potential implications.

3. What effect does climate change have?

The observed climate change effects include:

  • Rising sea levels
  • Diminished snow and ice
  • Increased precipitation with higher risk of flooding events
  • Increased amounts of green house gases
  • Increased global mean surface temperature
  • Extremes in temperature and heat waves
  • Declines in water availability especially in the Middle and Near East

4. How does climate change influence food production?

The IPCC states with high confidence that extreme climate and weather events will reduce food production with far reaching effects on crops, livestock and fisheries. The effects on food production can be categorised into six distinct impacts:

  • Inundation of agriculture land and saline intrusion due to sea level rise
  • Desertification due to drought
  • Flood damage and soil erosion
  • Typhoon damage to food crops, cattle and agriculture facilities
  • Reduced plant and livestock growth due to cold
  • Reduced yields due to pests and diseases

5. How does climate change impact soil, water and plant health?

Climate change may contribute to poor soil health by reducing the amount of organic matter in the soil; harming the structure of the soil; and increasing its vulnerability to erosion and other degradation processes. Similarly, climate change is projected to affect the availability and distribution of rainfall, snow melt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality used for food production purposes. Moreover, environmental play a key role in defining the function and distribution of plants and climate change is known to have adverse consequences to plant health.

6. Are the projected impacts to food production consistent across the globe?

No. The projected climate change impacts vary across crops or species, regions and adaption scenarios. For example, the IPCC’s special report on climate change in 2017 describes how crop production is predicted to be consistently and negatively impacted by climate change in low-latitude countries, while it may have positive or negative effects in northern latitudes. After 2050 the risk of more severe impacts increases, particularly in developing countries.

7. Can food production contribute to climate change?

The production, processing and distribution of food can lead to an increase in greenhouses gases which trap heat and increase the rate of warming in the atmosphere. Some of the activities implemented for food production which influence climate change include:

  • Deforestation to increase arable land for crop production and livestock rearing
  • Excessive use of synthetic fertiliser’s, pesticides and insecticides
  • Use of fossil fuels for transportation, creation of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and the running of machines used for packaging, producing and distributing food
  • The increasing demand and production of meat based diets which require more land, energy and greenhouse gas emissions than grains and vegetables
  • Food waste releases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrogen into the atmosphere

8. What is being done to mitigate against climate change?

United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals: A key element of the agenda involves tackling climate change in a global partnership.

The Paris Agreement: A global agreement adopted by a number of countries at the COP21 in Paris 2016. In this agreement each country committed to taking action to cut emissions and limit warming to within 2°C with an ambition of of 1.5°C by the end of the century. As of April 2018, 175 parties had ratified the Paris Agreement.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): The United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change and publishing reports presenting the latest evidence for the physical science basis of observed global warming.

9. Is it still possible to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?

Yes. The IPCC argues that it is still possible to limit warming to 1.5°C provided there is major and widespread action to cut emissions by half by 2030 and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Limiting warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C has clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems.

10. How can we ensure sufficient food fit for human consumption under a changing environment?

It is important to become proactive and understand the role of climate change; its influence on food production and the suitable monitoring and surveillance program. This will include:

  • Adopting more environmentally-friendly food production systems
  • Further research investigating climate change and food production
  • Advanced detection methods
  • Continued and improved monitoring of climatic conditions and surveillance activities
  • Development of predictive models, early warning systems and risk assessments
  • Translate research into meaningful practices and procedures for the industry
  • Education of citizens across the globe, empowered and inspired to make an effort to reduce their footprint

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This article is from the free online course:

Farm to Fork: Sustainable Food Production in a Changing Environment

EIT Food