Africa / Climate Change / ILRI

‘We’re heading for a four-degree rise in temperature by end century’–ILRI systems analyst Philip Thornton

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ARDD branding at Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2010, a side event held on 4 December 2010 at the COP16 United Nations climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

‘Taking steps to control global temperatures is a key issue at the UN talks on climate change in Cancun. Within the next four decades maize prices could rise by up to 131 percent, there could be 17 million more undernourished children in the poorest countries, and some African farmers might have to give up agriculture if the planet keeps getting hotter, new studies show.

“[We wanted] . . . to get countries in Cancun to take action now to keep the global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius by the turn of the century—otherwise we are headed towards a four degree rise if greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked,” said Philip Thornton, of the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who used climate models in a study showing the serious impact of a four-degree Celsius rise in temperature on food production in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2090s.

‘The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) noted in its latest assessment that a two-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures by the turn of the century would have a catastrophic effect: water stress in arid and semi-arid countries, more floods in low-lying coastal areas, coastal erosion in small island states, and the elimination of up to 30 percent of animal and plant species.

‘Thornton said his study was prompted by a conference called ‘4 degrees and beyond’ organised at Oxford University in 2009, where the UK Met Office had warned that a 4 degree increase in the global temperature was quite possible by the end of this century and even earlier.

‘Much academic attention in the agriculture sector has centred on 2050, by which time the global population is expected to increase from around 6.3 billion today to 9.1 billion, adding a third more mouths to feed, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

‘A comprehensive study led by Gerald Nelson and Mark Rosegrant of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI),  projected the possible impact of climate change on three of the world’s main staple foods – maize, rice and wheat – from 2010 to 2050. . . .

‘Implementing policies to help countries adapt, make their people resilient to the impact of climate change, and reduce the risk of disaster was critical, said Lindiwe Sibanda, head of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), an African think-tank. . . .

‘In the ILRI study Thornton painted a rather gloomy picture: crops failed every second year in parts of Southern Africa, and he was sceptical that international climate policies would succeed “in confining global warming to … [a rise of 2 degrees Celsius] – even this will require unprecedented collective will and collective action”.

‘Data collection and dissemination on the weather as well as the land would have to improve, so as to develop adaptation strategies. At the moment, “estimates of the cropland extent in Africa range from about 1 to more than 6 million sq km … depending on the choice of satellite … The uncertainty in such basic information (“where are crops grown, and how much of them is there?”) adds considerable difficulty to the quantification and evaluation of impacts and adaptation options,” the ILRI study commented.

‘It also urged investment in preserving genetic diversity so farmers would have a bigger pool of choices to cross-breed, and in providing support for smallholder farmers by developing community-based adaptation tools that were easy to implement. . . .’

Read the whole article at IRIN: Staple food crops do not want global warming, 5 December 2010.

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