Impact of climate change on food production

30 April 2015

A Croucher Foundation award recipient has co-authored a paper highlighting the crucial link between effects of climate change on food security and theoretical models that can be adopted to combat the issue.

Amos Tai, a 2012 Croucher Fellow, along with Maria Val Martin at the University of Sheffield and Colette Heald at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, published an academic paper entitled Threat to future global food security from climate change and ozone air pollution in the August 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change.

Currently working as an Assistant Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tai has been trained in atmospheric sciences, studying problems affecting the environment such as air pollution, and using models and statistical analysis of global data sets to make future projections and analyze trends.

Despite his predominantly physics and chemistry-oriented research background, he admits to harbouring a deep passion for biology, which led to his exploration of linkages between atmospheric sciences and ecosystems.

“In the end of the day, we can see that it is one big whole system – everything is connected to each other. In terms of agriculture, if the conventional way of growing food continues, which is basically using a lot of fertilizers and water, we are not only using up resources, warming the climate and polluting the air. These bad effects in turn impacts the growth of the crops. Regardless of the many resources invested into growing food, we are changing the environment in ways that harm future crop growth.”

Tai believes that food security is growing to be a “forefront research area”, especially in light of the aggregating global population. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure food security for everyone on this planet with the prevalent environmental constraints brought on by climate change as well as other environmental factors like air or water pollution.

He also sees a connection between environmental problems and social justice, and that the reduction of climate change and pollution and the ensuring of food security could reduce the number of issues affecting the poor, and hopefully, eradicate poverty altogether.

The Nature paper studies how climate change and air pollution can impact our future food production. It suggests that the effect of global warming on crops is somewhat unavoidable, but that we can learn to adapt our agricultural practices to a warming climate. On a national basis, it assesses and contrasts two key response methods which are (1) growing different varieties of crops that are more suited to warm temperatures and (2) reducing the level of ozone air pollution, analyzing which method is better for individual countries in terms of protecting their food supply. For example, in regions hard-hit by air pollution as well as climate change, the study determines that tackling air pollution is the more efficient way to ensure food security.

The scope of these projections and suggestions are significant. Should there be effective global cooperation on the matter of aggressively combatting climate change and reducing pollutant levels, the impact brought on by a warming world could be reduced by half Tai says.

A core element of this study of food security in relation to environmental issues is its interdisciplinary nature. By taking an integrated approach, the chances for these complicated issues to be solved increases greatly as the suggestions provided are often more applicable in a real-life setting having studied different aspects of the issue at hand.

The findings of the paper is a continuation of the research he conducted during his Croucher Fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012.

“Croucher Foundation provides us with the opportunity to pursue research that you believe to be important. This is extremely essential as you do not want to have to constrain your research to where the funding is.”

For more information on Croucher Fellowships, please click here.


                 
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