Close

Your request has been taken into account.

An email has just been sent to you with a link to download the resource :)

What Climate Change means for your Everyday Staples

In this article we’ll explore why global warming is impacting food production, which everyday staples are most at threat, and what can be done to prevent food insecurity.
Green News
2023-04-07T00:00:00.000Z
en-gb

The worsening effects of climate change are having a profound impact on the agricultural sector and staple crops around the world. Increasing temperatures, droughts, flooding, water scarcity, and rising levels of CO2 are threatening some of our favourite everyday food items and experts warn that the production of staple crops could decline by almost a third by 2050 if governments don’t take urgent action to halt the effects of climate change. 

👉 In this article we’ll explore why global warming is impacting food production, which everyday staples are most at threat, and what can be done to prevent food insecurity.

Why is global warming impacting food supplies?

At low levels, rising temperatures and increasing levels of carbon dioxide can actually be beneficial to farming and crop yields. However, once temperatures get too high (in particular, a temperature rise of more than 2℃), evapotranspiration and water scarcity start to become an issue, threatening the survival of crops and livestock and creating shortages in global food supplies. 

In 2022, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published its Sixth Assessment Report (Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability). In the report the IPCC outlined that rising global temperatures are a severe threat to food security: 

Global warming will progressively weaken soil health and ecosystem services such as pollination, increase pressure from pests and diseases, and reduce marine animal biomass, undermining food productivity in many regions on land and in the ocean.

Not only this, but more frequent and extreme weather events have the potential to harm or even completely destroy crops, livestock and fisheries, not to mention the potential damage that these kinds of weather events can have on farming infrastructure, which also has the potential to affect production outputs. 

And it’s not just food scarcity and shortages of everyday staples that’s a growing problem, the CCC (Climate Change Committee) has also warned that climate change is likely to result in more volatility when it comes to domestic food prices, with prices rising as much as 20% by 2050. The cost of living crisis is already affecting millions of people across the globe, and further hikes in food are likely to push many into poverty - the World Bank estimates that in 2021 alone, an additional 30 million people were pushed towards food insecurity as a result of rising food prices.

supermarket with stocked shelves

Who is most affected by food scarcity?

The populations who are worst affected by food insecurity tend to also be the most vulnerable. The World Bank estimates that around 80% of the world’s population most at risk from food scarcity as a result of climate change live in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa; regions that suffer from higher than average levels of poverty and food scarcity already. These communities are often already living on the poverty line, and climate change events such as a drought or flood are all it takes to push them over the edge. In Africa alone it is estimated that as much as 43 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2030 as a result of falling crop yields. 

While those living in countries nearest to the equator will be the worst affected, no one will be spared from the impacts of climate change. Although not comparable with the hardships that many will face as a result of increasing food scarcity, decreases in food supplies elsewhere in the world will have a knock-on effect across the globe, and some of the daily food staples that we take for granted are at risk. In the next section we’ll take a closer look at some of the everyday staples that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

refugee camp with tents

What items are worst affected?

Wheat, corn and rice

Global temperature rises have already lowered global yields of three of our main staple crops (corn, wheat and rice) and experts warn that production of these crops will decrease by as much as 10% to 25% for each degree of additional warming, which means some of the everyday staples that we take for granted will become harder to source and more expensive to buy.

In fact, we’re already seeing the effects: in 2021 for example, record temperatures in Canada, and increased levels of rainfall in Europe meant that the overall yields of durum wheat were almost 50% less across some regions than in 2020. Durum wheat is staple in many wheat-based products and is essential for the production of pasta, couscous, and some breads. The resulting price increase in these items is a small but meaningful reminder of the impacts of climate change that are coming our way. 

Most concerning however, is the impact that decreased staple crop yields will have on areas that are reliant on local production for their primary food supply. Whether local crops are impacted by extreme weather events such as flooding or drought, or whether overall quantity and quality of the crop is depleted by climate stressors, the effects can be devastating for local communities. The tragic reality of the situation is that unless action is taken to prevent global warming, we will see increasing incidences of famine in addition to global food supply strains.

person picking maize

Nutritional value of plants and vegetables

The damage to crops extends beyond the harm caused by extreme weather events. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase the speed at which crops grow, but decrease the levels of important vitamins and minerals in the plants. 

This means human nutrition will suffer and we’ll struggle to consume a balanced diet, something that could potentially have a knock on effect in terms of human health and longevity. 

vegetables on chopping board

Coffee

Coffee is a beloved staple across the world and many people rely on it to shake off the grogginess of sleep, or to power through an intense day at work. It’s something that we take for granted and assume that we’ll always have access to, however, climate change may put future stock levels at risk - in fact some studies suggest that we could lose as much as 50% of existing land used for growing coffee. 

To grow high quality coffee beans a specific temperature, light level, and humidity level is required. Currently, the most optimal conditions can be found in Latin America, a region where over 14 million people are employed by the industry. However, global warming is affecting the region by creating longer periods of both rain and drought, something that is predicted to decrease the output in coffee production, and lower the quality of the coffee beans that are grown. 

The quality and price of our beloved coffee staple may suffer as the world continues to feel the effects of global warming. And even more concerning is that local communities who were once able to support themselves through the growth and production of coffee may find themselves suffering the loss of their primary industry. 

coffee beans in. barrel

Wine

Wine is not only a staple for many households across the world, it also represents a market worth upwards of 340 billion USD. The production of wine has always been closely linked and dependent on the environment. Soil, temperature and weather patterns affect the different types of grape that can be grown and also determine the annual quality and quantity of the grape harvest. 

Unpredictable weather patterns resulting from climate change make growing a reliable product increasingly challenging. In recent years, unexpected weather such as hail, strong winds and frost have damaged and destroyed vineyards, completely wiping out whole sections of vines in some instances. 

The changes in climate and temperature are forcing wine growers to reassess the variety of wine that they’re growing, and in decades to come we can expect the wine industry map to completely change as regions adjust to climate change impacts.

vineyard view

Seafood

Seafood is a staple in many people’s diets and one of their main sources of protein. Over half a billion people around the world rely on fish for their protein intake, and seafood accounts for nearly 7% of protein intake globally. 

Our oceans are the world's largest carbon sink, they capture 25% of all carbon emissions and absorb 90% of the excess heat generated by these emissions. This means that the temperatures of our water bodies are higher than ever before, something that is changing marine biodiversity by altering the distribution of fish stocks and increasing the vulnerability of different species to disease and pests. 

In the US for example, species such as lobster, shellfish, sea bass and hake have moved over 100 miles further north. And in Portugal, fishermen are starting to catch new species of fish that previously could only be caught further south in warmer waters. This changing distribution of marine life is a big problem. The issue is that when species move into new areas they disrupt pre-existing and often fragile ecosystems. Established marine species are forced to compete with new species of marine animals for food and survival. 

Other effects of warming waters on marine life include an alteration to the timings of migratory patterns, reproductive periods, and an increase in metabolic rates which mean that fish are absorbing higher levels of harmful mercury. The whole marine system is a finely tuned and fragile interplay of different factors, and global warming is jeopardising  the survival of some of our best loved seafood staples.

prawns in bowl

Water intensive staples like avocados and almonds

Some crops require an exceptionally high level of water to grow successfully. Take almonds and avocados for example, they’re a very water reliant crop, something that will increasingly become an issue as the world tackles water scarcity due to temperature increases. 

As communities around the world struggle to survive on existing water levels, we will be forced to ask ourselves if these beloved staples are really worth the water price.

avocado trees

Food production is part of the problem

Part of the problem actually lies in agricultural production practices. The global food system is responsible for approximately one third of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions (only the energy sector is responsible for more emissions). What’s worse, is that it’s the primary source of methane emissions and responsible for the majority of Earth’s biodiversity loss. Therefore, if we want to stop the worst effects of climate change, and to prevent food scarcity from becoming even more of an issue, the agricultural sector will need to reassess its own practices and methods.

What can be done to save our staples?

What’s clear is that global temperature rises must be kept below 2℃ - and ideally below 1.5℃ - if we are to prevent the worst effects of global warming and prevent further crop and livestock deterioration. This is something that will take collective global action - it’s not just Governments who need to step up to the mark, it’s companies and individuals too. 

The food industry also has a lot to answer for; being responsible for as much as a third of global emissions, the food industry needs to urgently address the way it is growing and producing food, and to implement more sustainable practices. Let’s take a closer look at the sort of practices needed if the agricultural sector is going to adapt to climate change and save our everyday staples:

Efficient water use

Water is an essential element of farming, both crops and livestock depend on it for their survival. Unfortunately global warming and rising temperatures mean that water scarcity is a growing issue. In order to preserve water resources and stave off water shortages we need to develop techniques and practices that use water resources more efficiently, and to manage water demand more effectively. 

The development of irrigation systems can be useful, however, if supplies are low in the first place (because of drought for example) this won’t solve the problem. Technology that facilitates water accounting systems and the assessment of water levels (for example soil moisture sensors) can be a useful weapon in the fight against water scarcity.

farmer in paddy field

Change crop variety

Some crops are worse than others when it comes to the amount of water they consume. Rice for example requires significant amounts of water, and so farmers could consider switching to a less water intensive crop variety such as maize or legumes. Not only will this reduce the water demand, but it also helps to cut down on methane emissions - something that rice is particularly notorious for.

farmer ploughing field

Improve soil quality

Soil is a crucial component of crop yield and health. Poor quality soil is soil that's low in nutrients and organic carbon, making it much more susceptible to the ravages of drought and water scarcity. Chemical fertilisers are often used to help combat this and to improve the quality of soil, however, they’re problematic in and of themselves as they release high levels of pollution that either runs off into our waterways or ends up being broken down by microbes in the soil thereby releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

The use of organic carbon is a more sustainable alternative to traditional chemical fertilisers and can be achieved by using cover crops with large root systems in the field rotation cycle instead of simply leaving fields empty between crop growth. Nature based solutions such as this could affect as much as 37% of the climate change mitigation needed in order to keep global temperatures rises under 1.5℃.

someone lifting up soil in trowel

Technological innovation

Continued investment and research into technological solutions is required in order to develop more sustainable farming practices and to make our crops more resilient. 

An interesting area of research under this banner is that of CRISPR technology, which can be used to make crops and livestock more resilient to climate change. Why not read our article on this exciting area of development for more information.

water sprinklers in field

Round-up

There’s no doubt about it, climate change is not only altering patterns of production but is also putting food production and supply at risk. With decreasing yields of staple crops seen in many countries around the world, and increasing climate related threats to some of our beloved kitchen staples, what we consume in the future is likely to change. 

Unless we take action to halt the effects of global warming and alter our existing methods of food production, we can expect to see price hikes of our favourite products, and scarcity issues across the globe. These impacts will push high numbers of the world’s population over the poverty line, and sadly the areas that will suffer the most are those that are already the most vulnerable.

What about Greenly? 

At Greenly we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

Smiling man with beard and glasses wearing blue shirt
Yellow logo that reads, "time to change"

Green-Tok, a newsletter dedicated to climate green news

We share green news once a month (or more if we find interesting things to tell you)

More Articles

Green News
flames

The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Kara Anderson
By
Kara Anderson

👉 In this article, we delve into the environmental implications of Turkmenistan's Darvaza Crater and the country's challenges in managing methane emissions.

Tourism