Climate change is arguably the most important threat to agriculture and food security at present. Extremes such as extreme heat, late cold snaps, droughts and unexpected floods can destroy crops and kill livestock. These conditions are expected to increase in intensity and frequency with climate change (IPCC 2012). Since a wealth of research supports the view that climate change is anthropogenic, caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, steps can be taken to avoid these global modifications (National Academy of Sciences 2014; IPCC 2014).

Climate is difficult to quantify, requiring extensive analysis of numerous factors that affect the dynamics of a changing atmosphere. There are countless climate projections in existence, and many more being developed. Mission 2019 considered a variety of sources and research in our analysis including the projections and data compiled in the Intergovernmental Planet on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment (IPCC AR5) released in 2014. The IPCC AR5 is the fifth and most recent iteration of the United Nations’ climate change research in quantifying the current state of the climate, understanding the potential impacts faced, and addressing what measures we should take to keep emissions at levels that allow for a stable climate future.

One difficulty in predicting climate change lies in the exponential compounding of error. Small errors in our understanding of the physics of a system as complex as Earth can quickly turn into larger ones. To combat this, scientists meticulously check their equations, parameters, and methods of approximation, while calibrating against historical data and seeking the advice of fellow experts in their field. Often ensemble prediction is used, where many models are run with slight variations in initial conditions, and if the results are similar, they can be averaged to get a reasonable projection. Ensembles also offer a way to sample how conclusive or inconclusive a model is by allowing for a range of possible results.

Another issue in climate modeling is the uncertainty in human effects – how will we as a species respond to the threats of a changing climate? We can explore the ramifications of varying scenarios with projections based on a range of estimates for future emissions – called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). RCPs use radiative forcing to estimate how much extra energy will be trapped in our atmosphere from the greenhouse gas effect, and therefore how much warming can be expected. The projected values vary greatly between RCP 8.5, which threatens irreversible warming to RCP 2.6 (van Vuuren et al, 2010a, Riahi et al 2010, van Vuuren et al, 2010b). Although not as dangerous, RCP 2.6 still presents great problems for the future of food security in our world. Regardless of the outcome, it is critical for our agricultural future that we adapt our production methods to changes in climate (Vuuren et al, 2011).

image05Figure 1: Representative Concentration Pathways (Copied from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures)

RCP 2.6 still presents great problems for the future of food security in our world, and it is critical for our agricultural future that we adapt to changes in climate, including precipitation shifts, increased droughts and floods, rising temperatures, and increases in the frequency of natural disasters (Vuuren et al, 2011).

Mission 2019’s solution is mitigative and opportunistic in this regard: we recommend using infrastructure and technology such as advanced irrigation systems and biofortification to protect agricultural success despite the dangers faced, and making use of any agricultural advantages, such as expanded growing regions or growing seasons, that climate change presents. While the solving the cumulative problem of climate change may be beyond the scope of this Mission, climate is so critical to our agriculture that it is hard to fully separate the two. We are cognizant of the responsibility to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint. Whether addressing infrastructure, irrigation, or urban development, our solutions are crafted not to exacerbate and many times, to ameliorate. Global solutions to climate change will likely involve new technologies and renewable energy sources. Although breakthroughs are hard to predict, given the rapid pace of technological innovation, we can have faith, while making every effort to reduce the anthropogenic climate footprint, that technology will play a pivotal role over such a long timescale.

Climatic and environmental changes have been significant in the last several decades, with sharp increases in temperature anomalies, sea level rise, and greenhouse gas emissions beginning in the latter part of the 20th century (see Figure 2 below).

image07Figure 2: Evidence of a Changing Climate: Reprinted from “IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures”, 2014, IPCC AR5 Reprinted with permission

To minimize the effect of climate change, our industrial future would necessitate a fundamental change in the way society operates. As shown in part (d) of Figure 2, forestry and other land use including agricultural pursuits have manifested a decreasing CO2 footprint with time and our plan would accelerate this decline. The vast majority of carbon emissions are a result of fossil fuel usage, cement production, and other similar processes. As such, these issues must be addressed and solved separately.

image02Figure 3: This figure shows the projections of expected warming in different RCPs (Copied from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures)

Projected Changes

Climate induced precipitation and temperature signals vary by location and latitude. Precipitation changes by latitude reflect weakening trade winds as the polar regions warm, transporting less moisture into the mid latitudes and allowing for heavier rainfall in the tropics under a warmer atmosphere (IPCC 2014). The decrease in precipitation is not uniform either. High latitude areas see definite increases in precipitation, given air capable of holding more moisture. These competing factors result in bands of increasing and decreasing precipitation as a function of latitude as shown in figure 4a and 4b, and this holds hold huge implications for our decision making in the future with regards to increasing desertification or expanded growing regions. Accounting for seasonal shifts in the mid latitudes will be critical as well, but the relatively “slow” decadal-scale progression of change could allow us to actively adapt as these changes occur (IPCC 2014; Mukherjee et al 2015).

image06Figure 4a: Precipitation Change By Season Projections (Copied from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures)

image03Figure 4b: Precipitation Change By Season Projections (Copied from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures)

It is important to keep in mind that as complicated as these predictions are, they are muddied further by the uncertainty in the future of emissions. The RCP 8.5 scenario (shown on the right below), for example, makes the precipitation changes above (sample reproduced on the left below) seem insignificant and trivial by comparison.


image00Figure 5a: Precipitation Change vs RCPs (Copied from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures). 5b: Temperature Change vs RCPs (Copied from the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures)

In terms of regional variability, temperature changes due to climate change will not be any more uniform around the world than precipitation. The difference between scenarios such as RCP 8.5 and 2.6 is again startling.

In both scenarios we note a strong warming signal in the high latitudes, which may increase the amount of arable land available, but could also increase the number of extreme weather events in the next several decades as the jet stream destabilizes (Masters, 2014; Pearce, 2013) as the gradient between cold polar air and warming mid latitude air decreases. We see a fairly constant warming signal otherwise, uniform and global, generally increasing with increasing latitude as land area increases.

The Role Of Agriculture

Agriculture has a definite direct climate impact. Much of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are in the form of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). While both of these are potent greenhouse gases, their IR absorption and emission spectra allowing for many times more radiative forcing than carbon dioxide (on the order of 101 for methane and 102 for nitrous oxide), they are also not the gases at the moment primarily responsible for warming (EPA, 2015; IPCC 2007). N2O originates from a variety of sources, primarily oceanic and soil based through microbial pathways, but there are several anthropogenic pathways through which it is produced (EPA, Overview of Greenhouse Gases 2015; EPA OAP 2010). Much anthropogenic N2O is also produced through industrial and manufacturing pathways, but the increase in N2O levels in the last several decades suggests increased Global Warming Potential. In an RCP future scheme in which population growth forces agricultural expansion, a proliferation of current agricultural N2O production methods would lead to N2O becoming a significant agent of climate change as it steadily increases in concentration over the course of the century. Thus it is important that decrease nitrous oxide emissions pathways through better use of soil management techniques.

CH4 is the main greenhouse gases produced by agricultural pursuits, and is the second most produced greenhouse gas in the world. Agriculturally it is produced mainly through the digestive processes of farm animals or by the handling processes of manure (which is important in the fertilizer aspect as noted prior), and animal produced CH4 accounts for a third of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). World emissions have of CH4 decreased in the past two decades, but the percentage of agriculture has increased and industrial and natural gas sources have decreased (EPA 2015). In an RCP 2.6 scenario for example in which we minimize our emissions potential, agriculture is projected as the single most pivotal agent of CH4 production by 2100 (Vuuren et al, 2011) mainly correlated to the spread of agriculture to a larger reason to support the population of the earth. This is one example of how in the future agriculture could play an even greater role than it does in the present day at being a main driver in the climate function eliciting a warming response.

Carbon has not been mentioned so far in the agricultural discussion as it is a minor greenhouse gas in the production sector of agriculture, resulting mainly from farm infrastructure needs, transportation and electricity usage and other such energy requiring sources (that exist as well in other sectors). The main impact that agriculture has on the accumulation of carbon gasses is through deforestation, which reduces carbon sinks (Federici et al 2015; Woodwell 1995). Increased CO2 levels can actually increase yield significantly in their own right, depending on the type of crop, and the number of limiting factors such as natural disasters that the crops endure as a result (EPA, Agriculture And Food Supply, 2015).

At the present day, agriculture is still at most 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, and is not the primary driving factor in our climate problem. To help reduce this percentage even further, altering manure strategies and other propositions proposed by the EPA and others can put us on a path to greenhouse gas neutrality in agriculture (EPA 2015; EPA OAR, 2010).

image01Figure 6: Greenhouse Gas emissions By Sector, EPA Total Emissions in 2013 = 6,673 Million Metric Tons of CO2 equivalent

Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry in the United States is a net sink and offsets approximately 13% of these greenhouse gas emissions. Future developments in technologies such as biofuels that can make use of agricultural waste and scrap can be used in addition to many existing practices to offset much of the greenhouse gas impact of agriculture as well and further accelerate the path to neutrality (IPCC 2007).

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are an extreme cause for concern in food production and development, and will only increase with climate change (Sobel, 2014; IPCC 2012; Millner et al 2015). Droughts and floods especially can lead to famine and rising food costs to already struggling regions. In addition, large scale shifts and changes in rainfall and temperature patterns could reshape the available areas for farming and agricultural development.

image08Figure 7: North Atlantic Hurricanes Vs Climate Change (Knutson 2007)

As seen in the above graphic by Knutson (2007), the frequency of North Atlantic hurricanes is expected to continue to increase as sea surface temperatures warm, and this is a trend mirrored by many other types of disasters. Preparing for these disasters presents unique challenges, such as the need to engineer flood and drought resistant crops, improving irrigation and water management systems, and improving infrastructure to lessen the impact such events may have. Our solutions include zoning, reversing desertification, irrigation and infrastructure growth, biofortification, and the development of urban agriculture to address all these and more.

Husbandry And Fishing

In fishing, climate will have measurable and significant impacts on catch potential, depending on the region under consideration. Negative yields are projected to far outstrip positive yields in a median RCP scenario(IPCC 2014). Our solution addresses fishing issues through sustainable fishing regulations and aquaculture since fishing is one of the most critical sources of food production (Cheung et al 2010; IPCC 2014; FAO 2014, Sustainable Fisheries; FAO 2013, Food Balance Statistics). Climate change will have huge impacts on the catch potential of fisheries around the world, and one model of these potential impacts is shown below in Figure 8 (Cheung, et al, 2010; IPCC 2014).

image04Figure 8: Fishery Yield Projections (Copied From the IPCC AR5 Summary for Policymakers Graphics And Figures)

Changes in available water from precipitation and in temperature ranges will affect the viability of large scale animal husbandry on both a subsistence and industrial level. Animal husbandry represent a huge source of food as both meat and dairy products, and many subsistence farmers also utilize livestock for manual labor. Husbandry requires available feed and water for animals. Large industrial meat production facilities can often circumvent these issues to an extent by bringing in food and water from elsewhere, but small farms are especially vulnerable to this natural variability. Droughts can be especially critical to meat production at all levels as water is harder to transport than is food and is absolutely critical to any operation. Our solution also argues against meat production, both reducing environmental stress and reducing vulnerability to climatic variability. In addition our plan to empower smallholder farmers will allow for increased resiliency to these climatic changes relative to large scale operations.

Planning For The Future

While sobering, it is incredibly empowering to realize that we control our climate future to a large extent through our emissions decisions and choices. While cleaner agricultural practices on the whole have a small impact in comparison with bigger emissions sources such as energy production and consumption, and while we must still prepare for a worst case scenario should we not be able to overcome our own inertia, any solution we create to address food security must also address the issues of a changing climate. We must understand how these factors negatively and positively impact production, and ensure that our proposed actions will not increase the severity of the climate issue.

Our plan to address food security is cognizant of the issues posed by a changing climate. It is proactive in not furthering these issues, and our solutions are proposed with the intention to ameliorate the climate change problem. We recognize the continuing need to reduce emissions across the globe and stabilize our climate and agricultural future. Sustainable agriculture through the methods described in our production plan will pave the way for a robust food production system that properly cares for and protects the environment. We strongly support continuing research, technology development, and societal shifts to address greenhouse gas emissions, just as we address agriculture’s role in changing climate in our solution. Whether it be through new bioengineered plants, thriving urban agriculture, local climate alteration, or global diet changes, our production solutions will properly address agricultural issues and create a stable future.

Related Articles

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