Food Security Wanes as World Warms

Global warming may have begun outpacing ability of farmers to adapt.

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Investments could be made to offset the negative impacts of climate on agriculture and childhood malnutrition. But they’d be high, IFPRI estimated: more than $7 billion annually.

Last year’s greenhouse-gas releases have been fueling pessimism that nations will be able to brake their emissions trajectories soon. Owing to the global recession, people had expected 2009 greenhouse gas releases to drop precipitously, notes climate scientist Pierre Friedlingstein of the University of Exeter in England. “Global emissions did decrease 1.3 percent, but that’s only equivalent to four days of emissions.”

Despite a sharp downturn in the economies of major industrial countries, China and India both experienced healthy climbs in income during 2009 and in the fossil-fuel emissions that powered those economic gains. Right now, world greenhouse emissions are again rising, and appear on track in 2010 to climb more than 3 percent, Friedlingstein’s team reported online in Nature Geoscience on November 21.

“The globe essentially faces a daunting task in terms of climate change,” notes Bruce Campbell, director of a Copenhagen-based climate and food program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Worldwide rates of hunger and malnutrition are already “unacceptable,” he notes. Yet despite climate’s immense impacts on food production, agriculture remains largely ignored in international negotiations of climate and emissions policies.

“What we’re hoping,” Campbell says, “is that agriculture gets put on the agenda.”

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