2 How will agriculture be affected by climate change?

A changing climate will affect what we can grow, where we can grow it, how it is distributed and consumed, and who will be at risk of hunger.

In the industrial agricultural system, it takes 10 calories of fossil fuel to produce each calorie of food. This is clearly unsustainable and means that everything we eat that is produced using this system is contributing to climate change.

As a result of climate change, the UK is likely to experience:

  • increasingly warmer weather: the average annual temperature in the UK is expected to rise by between 1°C and 5°C by the end of the 21st century

  • warmer, wetter winters

  • hotter, drier summers

  • more summer droughts

  • more extreme weather events such as high summer temperatures and more winter storms

  • fewer frosts and cold winter spells

  • sea level rise: potentially by up to 80cms on parts of the UK coast during this century.

Farming Futures have produced a factsheet, What is climate change and how will it affect agriculture?

All these changes will have a drastic and, in places, an irreversible effect on agriculture. Cultivable land will be lost to sea level rises and soils will be degraded due to salination.

Extreme weather conditions will encourage more crop pests, which will produce increased pollution through more pesticide use. Top soil, our most precious resource, will disappear from deforestation, floods, landslides and droughts. These factors will result in the disappearance of farming livelihoods and lead to widespread food insecurity all over the globe. Rich countries will not be immune to this.

Climate change is already affecting agricultural communities all over the world. One of the charities working with many of them to implement practical and sustainable solutions is Practical Action. Listen to Hilary Warbuton from Practical Action speak at the Hunger and Climate Change conference in 2009.

Hunger and Climate Change conference 2009

The impact of agriculture on climate change will be accelerated by the reduction in the availability and price of fossil fuels. Unless the transition to lower carbon forms of agriculture (and in the wider food system) is well planned for, we will see more countries experiencing food crisis and continued food insecurity as shown in this report, Fuelling a Food Crisis, from the Leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas.

1.3 Glasshouse fruit and vegetables

3 How will climate change affect food security?