Chatham House Climate Risk Assessment sends stark warning to global leaders in Glasgow

As global leaders gather in Glasgow for annual conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Chatham House publishes its Climate change risk assessment 2021.

The assessment’s message could not be more alarming, with food and agriculture being in the centre of concerns. The assessment finds that, if emissions follow the trajectory set by the world’s current reduction targets, there is a less than one per cent chance of reaching the 1.5°C target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement. It further warns that, unless targets are dramatically increased, and policy and delivery mechanisms are revised accordingly, many of the climate change impacts are likely to be locked in by 2040, and become so severe they go beyond the limits of what nations can adapt to.

For the food and agriculture sector, the assessment finds that

·         Yields could decline by 30 per cent in the absence of dramatic emissions reductions, despite having to increase to meet global demand. By 2040, the average proportion of global cropland affected by severe drought will likely rise to 32 per cent a year, more than three times the historic average.

·         By the 2040s, the probability of a 10 per cent yield loss, or greater, within the top four maize producing countries (the US, China, Brazil and Argentina) rises to between 40 and 70 per cent. These countries currently account for 87 per cent of the world’s maize exports. The probability of a synchronous, greater than 10 per cent crop failure across all four countries during the 2040s is just less than 50 per cent.

·         Globally, on average, wheat and rice together account for 37 per cent of people’s calorific intake. The central 2050 estimate indicates that more than 35 per cent of the global cropland used to grow wheat and rice – in worst-case scenario even more than 40 per cent – could be subject to damaging hot spells. The central estimate for 2050 also indicates these same global cropland areas will be impacted by reductions in crop duration periods of at least 10 days, exceeding 60 per cent for winter wheat, 40 per cent for spring wheat, and 30 per cent for rice.

The report concludes that these impacts on food and agriculture, along with heat and drought, will trigger cascading climate impacts that can be expected to cause higher mortality rates, drive political instability and greater national insecurity, and fuel regional and international conflict. 

Read an executive summary or the full report here.