UN official warns of 30% drop in world food output by 2050 if climate trends continue

Science, creativity and early warning are crucial for future of agriculture, FAO says

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If climate change continues at its current pace, global food production would drop at least 30 per cent by 2050, a top UN official said.

The warning by Zitouni Ould-Dada, deputy director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, comes as delegates from about 200 nations grapple with a host of climate-change issues at the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt.

The two-week summit is scheduled to wrap up on Friday, with its Egyptian hosts hoping it will produce an outcome that goes some way towards implementing financial pledges made during past summits, sets new targets to check climate change, and eases issues dividing developing countries badly hit by climate change and rich nations responsible for the vast majority of carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Ould-Dada said global food supplies are currently badly hit by the combined effects of the disruption of supply chains following the coronavirus pandemic, the fallout from climate change, such as floods, droughts and storms, as well as the Russia-Ukraine war.

“If this rate of climate change-induced droughts and flooding continues, there will at least be a 30 per cent drop in global food production by 2050,” Mr Ould-Dada, whose FAO brief includes climate change, biodiversity and the environment, told The National in an interview on the sidelines of the climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Ironically, he said there is enough food at present to feed the world’s now eight billion people, but that a third of it is wasted.

The UN says the world throws away around 931 million tonnes of food, most of it ending up in landfills, where it decomposes and produces around a 10th of the world's climate-warming gases.

Nations around the world pledged in 2015 to halve food waste by 2030, but few are on track to do so.

The US, Australia and New Zealand are among the world’s top five food wasters. The US is also the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter.

Biden at Cop27: climate crisis is about 'very life of the planet'

Biden at Cop27: climate crisis is about 'very life of the planet'

Mr Ould-Dada emphasised the do-or-die target to cap the rise of the planet’s temperature at 1.5° above pre-industrial levels. But, he cautioned that the current 1.2° rise has proven bad enough, and 1.5° could well be disastrous.

He cited the wave of extreme weather seen across the world this year, from drought in the Horn of Africa and floods in Pakistan to wildfires in California, floods in Germany and unusually high temperatures in Britain.

He also cited pockets of hunger, mostly in Africa, such as Sudan and Somalia.

“Look at what 1.2° has brought upon us already. We are frightened by what we have to deal with now and even more so about 1.5°,” he said.

“Scientists were initially saying let us keep it under 2.0° and then modified that to 1.5°. Now, they are saying 1.5° could be a threat to the human race.”

Turning back to food production, he said sustainable agriculture was now a necessity.

“We have no choice but to adapt to the new realities of climate change, like efficient and economic use of water. Some crops are no longer viable,” he said. “We must become more creative.”

Mr Ould-Dada said adapting to climate change in the agricultural sector required science, creativity and early warning.

“The science and the creativity are there, but we must accelerate the pace at which we utilise them. There must also be more investment in early warning systems,” he said, explaining that the latter ranges from weather satellites in orbit to farmers' mobile phones.

“Droughts and floods don’t suddenly happen. With reliable early warning systems, farmers could be given time to prepare themselves and seek protection.”

Updated: May 31, 2023, 1:23 PM