Climate change will play havoc with farming, and policy makers and researchers aren’t fully aware of the significance on food supply, according to the World Bank.
Earth will warm by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) "in your lifetime," Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice-president for climate change, said at a meeting of agriculture ministers in Berlin over the weekend. That will make farming untenable in some areas, she said.
Extreme weather from China’s coldest winter in at least half a century in 2010 to a July hailstorm in Reutlingen, Germany, already started to affect food prices. In the past three years, orange juice, corn, wheat, soybean meal and sugar were five of the top eight most volatile commodities, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Natural gas was first.
"Significant damage and destruction is already happening," Kyte said. "It isn’t a benign and slightly warmer world. It will be a volatile warming of the planet, with unpredictable impact."
Adapting agriculture to withstand a world with a changed climate and depleting resources isn’t happening fast enough, according to Achim Steiner, the director general of the UN’s Environment Programme.
The world risks "cataclysmic changes" caused by extreme heat waves, rising sea levels and depleted food stocks, as average temperatures are headed for a 4 degree Celsius jump by 2100, the World Bank reported in November 2012.
"It’s all going to take political leadership," said Gordon Conway, professor of international development at Imperial Colleage London. "We need more ministers of agriculture with self confidence who will stand up and say what they need, who will speak to their president or prime minster."
Long-term climate change may have "potentially catastrophic" effects on food production in the period from 2050 to 2100, the UN’s Food & Agricuture Organization has said.
Crop failures such as in Russia in 2010 are likely to become more common as climate change causes more extreme weather with heat and drought stress, according to a study that year led by the U.K.’s University of Leeds.