Threat to global food supply makes comprehensive action imperative
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a September 6, 2012, forecast that continued deterioration of cereal crop prospects over the past two months, due to unfavourable weather conditions in a number of major producing regions, has led to a sharp cut in FAO’s world production forecast since the previous report in July.
The bad news continues: Based on the latest indications, global cereal production would not be sufficient to cover fully the expected utilization in the 2012/13 marketing season, pointing to a larger drawdown of global cereal stocks than earlier anticipated. Among the major cereals, maize and wheat were the most affected by the worsening of weather conditions.
The image below is interactive at the original post and shows the FAO Food Price Index (Cereals), up to and including August 2012.
|from: Threat to global food supply makes comprehensive action imperative|
Fish are also under threat, in part due to ocean acidification. Of the carbon dioxide we're releasing into the atmosphere, about a third is (still) being absorbed by the oceans. Dr. Richard Feely, from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, explains that this has caused, over the last 200 years or so, about a 30% increase in the overall acidity of the oceans. This affects species that depend on a shell to survive. Studies by Baumann (2011) and Frommel (2011) indicate further that fish, in their egg and larval life stages, are seriously threatened by ocean acidification. This, in addition to warming seawater, overfishing, pollution and eutrification (dead zones), causes fish to lose habitat and is threatening major fish stock collapse.
Without action, this situation can only be expected to deteriorate further, while ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years. This means that, to save many marine species from extinction, geoengineering must be accepted as an essential part of the much-needed comprehensive plan of action.
Similarly, Arctic waters will continue to be exposed to warm water, causing further sea ice decline unless comprehensive action is taken that includes geoengineering methods to cool the Arctic. The threat that huge amounts of methane will be released from the warming Arctic seabed makes it imperative to prepare geo-engineering methods to respond to this threat and be ready for rapid deployment soon.
How to avert an intensifying food crisis
As extreme weather intensifies, the food crisis intensifies. Storms and floods do damage to crops and cause erosion of fertile topsoil, in turn causing further crop loss. Similarly, heatwaves, storms and wildfires do damage to crops and cause topsoil to be blown away, thus also causing erosion and further crop loss. Furthermore, they cause soot, dust and volitale organic compounds to settle on snow and ice, causing albdeo loss and further decline of snow and ice cover.
Extreme weather intensifies as the Arctic warms and the polar vortex and jet stream weaken, which is fueled by accelerated warming in the Arctic. There are at least ten feedbacks that contribute to further acceleration of warming in the Arctic and without action the situation looks set to spiral away into runaway global warming, as illustrated by the image below.
|Diagram of Doom, with Comprehensive Plan of Action added (credit: Sam Carana, October 9, 2012)|
To avert an intensifying global food crisis, a comprehensive plan of action is needed, as also indicated on the image. Such a plan should be comprehensive and consider action in the Arctic such as wetland management, ice thickening and methane management (methane removal through decomposition, capture and possibly extraction).
A Comprehensive Plan of Action on Climate Change needs to include policies to achieve a sustainable economy, as well as adaptation policies.
Such a comprehensive plan is best endorsed globally, e.g. through an international agreement building on the Kyoto Protocol and the Montreal Accord. At the same time, the specific policies are best decided and implemented locally, e.g. by insisting that each nation reduces its CO2 emissions by a set annual percentage, and additionally removes a set annual amount of CO2 from the atmosphere and the oceans, followed by sequestration, proportionally to its current emissions.
Policy goals are most effectively achieved when policies are implemented locally and independently, with separate policies each addressing a specific shift that is needed in order to reach agreed targets. Each nation can work out what policies best fit their circumstances, as long as they each independently achieve agreed targets.
Cuts in CO2 emissions of 80% by 2020 can be achieved by implementing local policies focusing on specific sectors (such as energy production, transport, land use, waste, forestry, buildings, etc).
As an example, each nation could add fees on jetfuel. Where an airplane lands that comes from a nation that has failed to add sufficient fees, the nation where the airplane lands could impose supplementary fees and use the revenues to support methods that capture CO2 directly from ambient air. Such supplementary fees should be allowed to be imposed under international trade rules.
Some policies will need to continue beyond 2020, in order to bring down levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to their pre-industrial levels this century, i.e. getting CO2 in the atmosphere back to 280ppm, CH4 back to 700ppb and N2O back to 270ppb. Policies can be very effective when focusing on local sectors such as agriculture and buildings, while also supporting geo-engineering methods such as biochar, enhanced weathering and direct capture of carbon from ambient air.
In addition to such policies to achieve a sustainable economy and adaptation policies, further geo-engineering methods will be needed to avoid runaway warming, as indicated in the blue area of the image below.