Living with climate change
Adaptation strategies needed to build resilience
10 September 2007, Rome - Climate change is emerging as one of the main challenges humankind will have to face for many years to come. It could become a major threat to world food security, as it has a strong impact on food production, access and distribution.
Abnormal changes in air temperature and rainfall and the increasing frequency and intensity of drought and floods have long-term implications for the viability and productivity of world agro-ecosystems.
This was the main message delivered today by Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director General, to over 140 world experts convened in Rome for a workshop on “Adaptation Planning and Strategies."(*) While continuing to deal with the causes of climate change -- by reducing emissions and increasing greenhouse gas sinks -- it is crucial, Müller said, to also take immediate action to cope with its effects. Ways must be found to build up peoples’ resilience as well as that of food production systems, he added.
Developing countries at risk most
Agriculture is the sector most affected by changes in climate patterns and will be increasingly vulnerable in the future. Especially at risk are developing countries, which are highly dependent on agriculture and have fewer resources and options to combat damage from climate change.
In the short term, as the global average temperature rises 1-3º C, industrialized countries may well gain in food production potential. However, in lower latitudes -- especially in subsistence sectors, marginal, semi-arid and sub-humid regions, where rain fed agriculture is the norm -- even with a minimal rise in global temperature crop potential will most probably decline.
Agriculture both culprit and victim
Agriculture is both culprit and victim when it comes to climate change.
It is estimated that the livestock sector alone accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while deforestation is responsible for 18 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
According to FAO, introducing improved livestock management and crop practices, coupled with adaptive management of forests, could have a very significant impact. Adopting land use practices such as conservation agriculture would also help to maintain significant amounts of carbon in the soil.
Rice production is another major source of greenhouse gas emissions. It is perhaps the main source of anthropogenic methane, with some 50 to 100 million metric tons per year emitted from the world's 130 million hectares of rice paddies.
At the same time adverse and extreme weather conditions can jeopardise rice crop production, which feeds more than half the world’s population. Of major benefit would be introducing different and improved rice varieties with greater salinity tolerance. These were successfully used by FAO to expedite the recovery of production in areas damaged by the 2004 Asian tsunami.
More hardy varieties, yielding over four tons per hectare, have been developed and tested successfully in Bangladesh, a country repeatedly affected by flooding.
The rapid transition toward greater use of biofuels could also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so long as food security and environmental considerations are taken into account.
The role of FAO
Climate change is a global phenomenon with local or regional features which needs to be understood and anticipated.
“FAO is already actively assisting its Members, particularly developing countries, to enhance their capacity to confront the negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, forests and fisheries”, said Müller. This means helping people to adapt their agricultural systems to changed conditions and specific stresses. It involves providing creative solutions and alternative approaches, such as introducing crop varieties that can tolerate heat and water stress.
Müller went on to say that forecasting extreme events and trends by collecting data and developing tools to produce on-hand information for adapting countries’ agriculture is another area that needs greater attention.
(*) The workshop “Adaptation Planning and Strategies” is organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under the Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. It is part of a series of meetings to assess strategies to cope with the effects of climate change.
Media Relations, FAO
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Did you know?
• In developing countries, 11%of arable land could be affected by climate change, including a reduction of cereal production in up to 65 countries.
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