Food prices driven up by global warming, study shows

From The Guardian UK:

Scientists warn that farming practices must be adapted to a warmer world and rises in global population

Damian Carrington, Thursday 5 May 2011

Global warming has already harmed the world’s food production and has driven up food prices by as much as 20% over recent decades, new research has revealed.

The drop in the productivity of crop plants around the world was not caused by changes in rainfall but was because higher temperatures can cause dehydration, prevent pollination and lead to slowed photosynthesis.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, Washington DC, said the findings indicate a turning point: “Agriculture as it exists today evolved over 11,000 years of reasonably stable climate, but that climate system is no more.” Adaptation is difficult because our knowledge of the future is not strong enough to drive new investments, he said, “so we just keep going, hoping for the best.”

The scientists say their work shows how crucial it is to find ways to adapt farming to a warmer world, to ensure that rises in global population are matched by rising food production. “It is vital,” said Wolfram Schlenker, at Columbia University in New York and one of the research team. “If we continue to have the same seed varieties and temperatures continue to rise, then food prices will rise further. [Addressing] that is the big question.”

The new research joins a small number of studies in which the fingerprint of climate change has been separated from natural variations in weather and other factors, demonstrating that the effects of warming have already been felt in the world. Scientists have shown that the chance of the severe heatwave that killed thousands in Europe in 2003 was made twice as likely by global warming, while other work showed that the floods that caused £3.5bn of damage in England in 2000 were made two to three times more likely.

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