• Caterina Sullivan

How Climate Change Affects Agricultural Production

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

Image credit: James Almond

On Wednesday, we spoke about how the Global Goals will impact rural Australia and touched on the importance of achieving Goal 13: Climate Action.

Today, we’re going to explore Goal 13 and agricultural production in more detail.

Let’s start by looking at what climate change is. Climate change is not just about global warming. It is about the increasing series of changing weather patterns which have been recorded in recent times.

In October last year, the Climate Council released a report on how climate change will affect agricultural production around Australia. We’re going to explore some of those findings below.

Agricultural Output

An increase of hot days and heatwaves, differing rainfall patterns, an increase of droughts, an increase of floods… all these symptoms of climate change affect agricultural output. And these are projected to become more severe, more frequent and more disruptive to agricultural production in Australia over time.

Food Prices

A decrease or fluctuation in agricultural output leads to a fluctuation of commodity prices. An extreme example of this was seen in 2006 when Cyclone Larry destroyed 90% of the banana crop in North Queensland. This affected banana supply for nine months and increased banana prices by 500%.

Quality and Availability of Produce

As the climate changes, so does the ecosystem. A change in the ecosystem means certain commodities will no longer be able to be grown or produced, some altered. Some foods become less nutritionally-beneficial when grown in an environment with higher levels of carbon dioxide. Other foods see a decrease in output in higher temperatures. The Climate Council estimates that grape-growing will be less suitable in up to 70% of Australia’s Mediterranean wine-growing regions (such as the Barossa Valley and Margaret River) by 2050. The increase in temperatures means earlier ripening and reduced grape quality. Furthermore, extreme weather events cause supply issues. Floods, cyclones, hurricanes and bushfires prevent the transport of food.

Participation in the International Economy

Scientists have predicted that Australia may be one of the most impacted regions by the growing threat of climate change when it comes to agricultural production. If agricultural production decreases, our international exports will be the first to suffer. The inherent Catch-22 is that a decrease in exports means a decrease in economic growth; a decrease in economic growth means less money we will be able to invest in mitigating climate change; a continuation of climate change means a decrease in agricultural exports – and it continues.

Long-Term Effects

The global population is expected to grow phenomenally over the next few years, which also means our need for food commodities will increase. There are two major methods we can use to tackle this problem, and they both need to be employed simultaneously. The first is addressing climate change. This can be done by transitioning to a low-carbon economy, investing in R&D and ensuring the use of sustainable agricultural practices. The second is the achievement of Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, namely Target 12.3: By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses. While this is an important target, it is worth noting that mitigating climate change should be the main focus.

This article was originally published on the Global Goals Australia Campaign website.

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Authorised by Caterina Sullivan (2018)

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