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As environmental changes continue to unfold, many regions of the world are likely to face an increased risk of food system collapse. A new article explores the probability of simultaneous extreme events that threaten our food systems at the same time in different parts of the world.
According to the new Nature publication, the probability of such an event has increased in recent decades. Study co-author Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler, researcher in the Risk and Resilience Program at IIASA, explains that the approach allows estimating “simultaneous extreme weather events on a large scale in a risk-based manner”, allowing “the development of new response to risk ”.
The study was based on the links between climate variability and crop yields in granaries in the countries with the highest crop production over the past half century. Wheat, corn and soybeans are now more likely than before to be exposed to simultaneous weather risks. In many cases, failures in some parts of the world can be offset by exports from others. However, the increasing probability of simultaneous failures around the world is much more difficult to address.
In the case of a discrete event, a nation could simply use its stocks or import crops at a higher price, but doing so only increases global interdependence at different levels. If a major climate hazard hits key producers of staple crops, the entire system can suddenly come to the brink of collapse. The result would be price spikes and growing inequalities in access to food, followed by mass migration, conflict and famine.
According to another recent study, in a 2 ° C scenario, simultaneous warming losses in the world's corn barns have a probability of 7%. Suddenly this increases to an 86% probability under a 4 ° C warming, which we are currently heading towards according to some researchers. Events that could trigger such a disruption include flash and severe heat waves and floods, prolonged droughts, wildfires, and more.
Importantly, in this particular paper, the researchers only looked at change in hazards, not production. Although the probability of simultaneous extreme events hitting production systems has increased, the probability of simultaneous decreases in production in multiple systems has decreased, at least for corn. This suggests that we are adapting our agricultural technologies and methods along the way. However, the question of whether we can adapt quickly enough is still in doubt.
We are likely to do better food storage, as well as better data collection, diversified distribution and early warning systems. Meanwhile, the development of more resistant crops and the advancement of agricultural technologies can act as more long-term means of addressing challenges. Still, prevention is still our best bet.
While more research is needed to better understand risks and develop appropriate mechanisms to prevent them, it is obvious that timely action to improve the resilience of our ecosystems, support biodiversity and prevent extreme climate change is the best way to support our food systems. .