Majority of world's food producers risk being cooked by climate change

·3-min read
© AP - Manish Swarup

Worsening global heatwaves pose a threat to 70 percent of the world's agricultural and food production between now and 2045, a recent study by risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft has found.

Climate change is already stoking heatwaves and other extreme weather events across the globe, with hot spells from India to Europe this year expected to hit crop yields.

Temperature spikes are causing mounting concern for health, particularly for those working outside in sweltering conditions, especially dangerous when humidity levels are high.

The latest assessment by Verisk Maplecroft brings those two threats together to calculate that heat stress already poses an "extreme risk" to food crop production in 20 countries, including agricultural giant India.

But the coming decades are expected to extend the threat to 64 nations by 2045 – representing 71 percent of current global food production – including major economies China, Brazil and the United States.

"With the rise in global temperatures and increase in global heat stress, we're going to see crops in more temperate countries as well being affected by this," said Will Nichols, head of climate and resilience at Verisk Maplecroft.

Rice is particularly at risk, the assessment said, with other crops like cocoa and even tomatoes also singled out as of concern.

India already at extreme risk

Maplecroft's new heat stress dataset, using global temperature data from the UK Met Office, feeds into its wider risk assessments of countries around the world.

It is based on a worst-case emissions scenario leading to around 2 degrees Celsius global warming above pre-industrial levels as early as 2045.

India - responsible for 12 percent of global food production in 2020 and heavily reliant on outdoor labour - is already rated as at extreme risk, the only major agricultural nation in that category at current temperatures.

"There's a very real worry that people in rural areas, which are obviously highly dependent on agriculture, are going to be much more vulnerable to these kinds of heat events going forward," explained Nichols.

That could impact productivity and in turn exports and have potentially "cascading" knock-on effects on issues such as the country's credit rating and even political stability, he said.

Major threat to Africa by 2045

Nine of the top ten countries likely to be affected by 2045 are in Africa, with the world's second largest cocoa producer Ghana, as well as Togo and the Central African Republic receiving the worst possible risk score.

The top 20 at-risk countries in the coming decades include key southeast Asian rice exporters Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the authors said, noting that rice farmers in central Vietnam have already taken to working at night to avoid the high temperatures.

The assessment underlines the fact that major economies like the US and China could also see extreme risk to agriculture in 2045, although in these large countries the impacts will vary from region to region.

Meanwhile, Europe accounts for seven of the 10 countries set to see the largest increase in risk by 2045.

"I think what it reinforces is that, even though a lot of us are sort of sitting in sort of Western countries, where we might think we're a bit more insulated from some of these threats, actually we are not necessarily," Nichols said.

"Both in terms of the sort of physical risks that we're facing, but also in terms of the kind of knock-on effects down the supply chain."

(with AFP)