climate change food race

Climate change threatens a third of global harvests

Last week another horrendous scientific study made a brief appearance in the news: climate change threatens a third of the world’s food production.

The study is from Finland, where scientists have developed a concept called ‘safe climactic space’. This is a measure of how dry a place is, its projected rainfall and temperature increase. Most global agriculture and livestock farming happens inside this safe space, as you’d expect. As global temperatures rise, this space begins to shrink.

Under a business as usual scenario, temperatures would rise by 3.7 degrees. This would threaten 31% of crop production and 34% of livestock farming by the end of the century.

As always with climate change, the next question is this: where does production shrink? Or to put it another way, whose food production gets wrecked by climate change?

In the map above, we see how the areas that are most likely to end up outside the ‘safe climactic space’ for food production are concentrated in the Sahel regions of Africa, and in India and South-east Asia. Pockets of the USA and China are affected, but most farming land will be okay. Europe is largely unscathed, barring Spain.

This is a familiar pattern. The vast majority of global emissions have come from the northern hemisphere, from the United States and Europe, with China and its coal boom only joining the ranks of the top polluters comparatively recently. And yet, the damage consistently falls on those least responsible, often on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

This inequity is often hidden in the climate change news. The headline figure is about global food production. It’s only when you stop and look at the detail that you realise that we’re not talking about UK farmers and their combine harvesters. We’re talking about harvest losses among smallholder farmers, mostly women in many places, people already living fragile lives.

And again, there is a racial dynamic in play here. Not because there is racist intent behind climate change, but because outcomes diverge along racial lines. Historically, it is very much the majority white nations of the global north that have caused climate change, but who get off relatively lightly. The smallest carbon footprints are among the black and brown populations of Africa and South Asia, and yet it is here that the full weight of Western emissions fall. This is why I argue that climate change is racist, and my book on the subject is out on the 10th of June.

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