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Less food, more wildfires in North America with climate change

Global warming “is causing dangerous and widespread disruptions in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world,” said a UN climate change report on Monday. Hotter weather and shifts in rainfall are likely to reduce food production in North America and are a risk to food security, said a fact sheet on climate change’s impacts on the continent.

“Climate change will continue to shift North American agricultural and fishery suitability ranges (high confidence), and intensify production losses of key crops (high confidence), livestock (medium confidence), fisheries (high confidence) and aquaculture products (medium confidence),” said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

“Intensified droughts and earlier runoff from diminished snowpack will increase water scarcity during the summer peak water demand period, especially in regions with extensive irrigated agriculture, leading to economic losses and increased pressures on limited groundwater as a substitute for diminished surface water supplies,” said the IPCC in comments directed at the U.S. West and northern Mexico.

“Coastal, riverine, and urban flooding affecting communities and ecosystems will become a dominant risk to (North American) urban centres, displacing people, compromising economic activity, disrupting transportation and trade infrastructure,” said the report. “Large wildfires will increasingly endanger lives, livelihoods, mental and physical health, property, key infrastructure, and economic activities and contribute to compromised air quality and municipal water contamination with multiple human health implications.”

Food production was also at risk in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, said the IPCC. “Future warming will negatively affect food systems in Africa by shortening growing seasons and increasing water stress.” In South and Southeast Asia, floods, droughts and heat stress “will have adverse impact on food availability and prices of food,” boosting the number of hungry people. “Substantative agricultural production losses are projected for most European areas over the 21st century, which will not be offset by gains in northern Europe.”

IPCC leaders called for immediate action by nations to slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also pointed to options to mitigate climate change.

“By restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development, but adequate finance and political support are essential,” said Hans-Otto Portner, co-chair of the IPCC panel that produced the report.

Summaries and the full report are available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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