Balance needed between climate change mitigation and food production

03 Aug 2018

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In a letter published in the scientific journal, Nature Climate Change, entitled “Risk of increased food insecurity under stringent global climate change mitigation policy” the authors advise that their “analysis shows that by 2050, the potential for a sizable increase in the risk of hunger is higher in the (Representative Concentration Pathways) RCP2.6 scenarios under climate mitigation than in the RCP6.0 scenarios without mitigation in all socio-economic futures and economic modelling, despite the fact that RCP6.0 scenarios have more severe climate change and greater reductions in crop yields”.  In developing these scenarios (identified by the RCP number) a range of accepted models were used to make these predictions which are fully explained in their letter and which include the impact of warmer and drier conditions.

Whether or not this study can accurately predict what will happen, and noting that it is focused on countries with much hotter climates than New Zealand, it does pose a question that we should consider in the New Zealand context: how do we get the balance right between climate change mitigations and the need to produce healthy food? 

The practical application in the New Zealand context can be addressed in relatively straightforward terms. Whether or not you accept that climate change is a reality, although there seem to be more frequent weather events, it is doubtless prudent to plan for climatic change. One of the weather patterns we are experiencing is rain being more concentrated followed by longer dry periods. This places pressure on water supply during dryer periods and causes problems from water over-supply during wet periods. Both rural and urban New Zealand are affected by these weather patterns. The environmental effects go from flooding at one extreme, to very low river flows at the other. 

If these patterns continue, methods and locations for growing fruit and vegetables may need to change, and it will become vital for us to store water to prevent excess flows during heavy rain and to provide water during dry periods. This water will be needed not only for people and animals, but also for crop survival so that we can feed ourselves.

In terms of food security, it will not be possible to permit undirected urban and lifestyle expansion into areas where sustainable food growing is possible. As a country, we will need to ensure that not only are the current growing areas suitably protected, but also that new areas be identified, and that there is a spread of growing around New Zealand. This will ensure that if there is a bad weather event in one area, other areas can supply the required food.

Reliance on imported food cannot be assured, particularly if this study has accurately predicted the future. New Zealand will need to develop a food security plan that first feeds our people, and then the world. Water storage, the protection of existing growing areas, and the identification of new growing areas spreading food production across the country is a sensible option.

HortNZ’s vision is healthy food for all forever. This scientific letter raises the concern that if the climate change mitigations are too severe, then the world’s growers may not be able to grow enough food to feed the world. It is very much a case of balance and making sure that for each mitigation, the effects and consequences have been worked through. As noted above, in New Zealand we are fortunate to have some sensible options that us to continue sustainably producing healthy food.

For further details see our submission on the Zero Carbon Bill here. We are ready to work with the Climate Change Commission to enable the best outcome.

- Mike Chapman, CEO