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6. Climate Change and Global Food Production Crisis - Call for Sustainable Resource Management Technology

2020-03-25

At the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019, the strong commitment of youth representatives to climate change attracted worldwide attention. According to a report published by the Science Advisory Group of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019, the five-year average global temperature for 2015-2019 was the warmest ever of an equivalent period on record and was already 1.1% above pre-industrial (1850-1900) times. At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos held in January 2020, global experts and decision-makers were asked to rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact. For the first time in the survey’s 10-year outlook, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood were all environmental, namely, (1) extreme weather, (2) failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change, (3) large-scale natural disasters, (4) biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and (5) human-made environmental disasters (World Economic Forum 2020).

Along with the negative impact of environmental degradation and climate change on agriculture, it should be noted that agriculture is one of the major contributors to these global problems. Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) activities accounted for to 13% of carbon dioxide (CO2), 44% of methane (CH4) and 81% nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from human activities globally during 2007-2016, representing 23% of total net anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC 2019). Globally, land use change, which is in turn driven primarily by agriculture, forestry and urbanization, is the direct driver with the largest relative impact on biodiversity (IPBES 2019).

In a study on the sustainability, Johan Rockström and colleagues from the Stockholm Resilience Center, proposed a framework based on “planetary boundaries” that define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system.  As of 2009, three systems closely related to AFOLU, namely,  climate change (atmospheric CO2 concentration), biodiversity (species extinction rate), and nitrogen cycle (amount of  N2 removed from the atmosphere) have already been found to cross the boundaries of the Earth (Rockström et al. 2009). Furthermore, if the current pace of production and consumption continues without the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures, the increase in population and income is expected to result in the increase of a 50-90% environmental effects of the food system during 2010-2050 (Springman et al. 2018). In order to avoid the catastrophic situation of climate change, it is necessary to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C before it is too late. In order to do so, significantly more commitments needs to be made by every country should  to significantly reduce GHG emissions even further (The Science Advisory Group of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019).

In order to avoid the risk of irreversible temperature rise in the future while achieving the SDGs including food and nutrition security, it is necessary to develop and disseminate the technologies that minimize the negative impacts of AFOLU including the expansion of farmland accompanied by deforestation and soil degradation. To that end, we are pursuing the development of  technologies to improve productivity by sustainably and efficiently utilizing resources such as water, soil and fertilizers, which can be applied at various scales from individual farms to watersheds, through maximizing the farmer’s knowledge and understanding of biological and environmental processes. This approach  could lead to sustainable intensification approach to agriculture that increases food production from existing resources without increasing impact on the environment (Pretty 2008).

The JIRCAS Research Program on “Development of agricultural technologies for sustainable management of the environment and natural resources in developing regions” aims to address the growing global issues of climate change and environmental degradation. We have been developing agricultural technologies for sustainable management of natural resources and environment in developing regions of Southeast and Southern Asia and of the African Continent. We are currently pursuing measures for climate change mitigation and adaptation, soil conservation technologies at the watershed level, and improvement of crop/cultivation technology for more efficient use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers. Through these activities, we contribute to our common goals for sustainable development (SDGs). For more incentive of farmers to adopt the mitigation technologies, we are considering also the benefits for local economy, not only those for global environment. For more information, please visit the program site .

References

IPBES (2019) Summary for Policymakers – Global Assessment Report  

IPCC (2020) Climate Change and Land. Summary for Policy Makers  

Pretty J (2008) Agricultural sustainability: concepts, principles and evidence, Phil.Trans. R. Soc. B. 363:447-465

Rockström et al. (2009) A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461(24). 

The Science Advisory Group of the UN Climate Action Summit (2019) United In Science - High-level synthesis report of latest climate science information.  

Springmann et al. (2018) Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature 562:519-525

World Economic Forum (2020) The Global Risks Report 2020.  

Contributors

TOBITA Satoshi (Program Director, Environment and Natural Resource Management)

IIYAMA Miyuki (Research Strategy Office)  

AFOLU-Deforestation driven by agricultural expansion in Kenya

Impact of climate change on agricultural production in Laos (Photo credit: K. Hayashi)