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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
Climate change can directly exacerbate food insecurity due to crop production-related impacts of, for example, warmer and drier conditions. Efforts to mitigate climate change through comprehensive, economy-wide greenhouse gas emission mitigation policies, however, may also negatively affect food security, due to indirect impacts on prices and supplies of key agricultural commodities.
In a study involving researchers of the JRC, a multiple model assessment was conducted on the combined effects of climate change and climate mitigation efforts on agricultural commodity prices, dietary energy availability, and the population at risk of hunger.
A robust finding is that, by 2050, the implementation of a global economy-wide carbon tax, if implemented evenly across all sectors and regions and without complementary policies, could have a greater negative impact on global hunger and food consumption than the direct impacts of climate change.
The negative impacts would be most prevalent in vulnerable low-income regions where food security problems are already acute. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for example, undernourishment could increase by 12 and 11 million people by 2050, respectively. Moreover, most models show a great degree of price sensitivity of food demand in low-income regions, as compared with high-income ones.
The researchers stress in the paper that their results should not be interpreted as downplaying the importance of future GHG emissions mitigation efforts, or to suggest that climate policy will cause more harm than good in general. Instead, the study highlights the need for careful design of emissions mitigation policies in the coming decades - for example targeted schemes encouraging more productive and resilient agricultural production systems. It also underlines the importance of incorporating complementary policies (such as safety-net programmes) that compensate or counteract the impacts of the climate change mitigation policies on vulnerable regions.
Figure: Regional effects of climate change and emissions mitigation on population at risk of hunger (by model and climate pathway scenario)
Note: the climate effect is shown by the Representative Concentration Pathways RCP2.6 and RCP6.0, which depict climate change impacts on crop yields corresponding to 2 °C and 2.7 °C increases by 2100 from the pre-industrial level; the mitigation effect corresponds to ambitious climate mitigation policies limiting global warming to 2 °C by the end of the century (reducing emissions down to RCP2.6 emission levels) versus no climate action
The study contributes to the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP), a major international collaborative effort to improve climate scenario simulation and to understand climate impacts on the agricultural sector at global and regional scales. Multiple crop and agricultural economic modelling groups around the world participate in AgMIP for model inter-comparison and the simulation and analysis of future climate change conditions.