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A Global Research Project
A Word About Temperatures
What the Lines Show
Credit: Bloomberg Business
Agriculture and food security are exposed to impacts and risks related to the changing climate in several ways. On the other hand, agriculture and food production activities are also responsible for part of the greenhouse gas emissions that in turn cause climate change.
According to the latest conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, together with deforestation and other human actions that change the way land is used (codename: AFOLU, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use), accounts for about a quarter of emissions contributing to climate change.
GHG emissions from farming activities consist mainly of non-CO2 gases: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) produced by bacterial decomposition processes in cropland and grassland soils and by livestock’s digestive systems.
The latest estimates released in 2014 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization [pdf] showed that emissions from crop and livestock production and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years, from 2.7 billion tonnes CO2e in 1961 to more than 5.3 billion tonnes CO2e in 2011.
During the last ten years covered by FAO data (2001-2011) agricultural emissions increased by 14 percent (primarily in developing countries that expanded their agricultural outputs), while almost in the same years (2001-2010) net GHG emissions due to land use change and deforestation decreased by around 10 percent (due to reduced levels of deforestation and increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks).
The current situation, as highlighted by a recent study led by FAO and published in Global Change Biology, sees farming activities more responsible for climate pollution than deforestation. Even thought emissions from agriculture and land use change are growing at a slower rate than emissions from fossil fuels, emissions reduction achieved thanks to better forest and soil management are cancelled out by a more intensive and energy-consuming food production systems. The FAO estimated that without increased efforts to address and reduce them, GHG emissions from the sector could increase by an additional 30 percent by 2050.
In a recent study published on Nature Climate Change, scientists pointed out that “the intensification of agriculture (the Green Revolution, in which much greater crop yield per unit area was achieved by hybridization, irrigation and fertilization) during the past five decades is a driver of changes in the seasonal characteristics of the global carbon cycle”.
As shown in the graph below, livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed nearly two-thirds of the total GHG agricultural emissions produced in the last years, with synthetic fertilizers and rice cultivation being the other major sources.
According to another report by FAO (“Tackling climate change through livestock”, accessible here in pdf), the livestock sector is estimated to emit 7.1 billion tonnes CO2-eq per year, with beef and cattle milk production accounting for the majority of the sector’s emissions (41 and 19 percent respectively).
Emission intensities (i.e. emissions per unit of product) are highest for beef (almost 300 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of protein produced), followed by meat and milk from small ruminants (165 and 112kg CO2-eq.kg respectively). Cow milk, chicken products and pork have lover global average emission intensities (below 100 CO2-eq/kg). However, emission intensity widely varies at sub-global level due to the different practices and inputs to production used around the world. According to FAO, the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change and has a high potential for emission reduction.
Together with increasing conversion of land to agricultural activities and the use of fertilizers, increasing energy use from fossil fuels is one of the main drivers that boosted agricultural emissions in the last decades. FAO estimated that in 2010 emissions from energy uses in food production sectors (including emissions from fossil fuel energy needed i.e. to power machinery, irrigation pumps and fishing vessels) amounted to 785 million tonnes CO2e.
FAO latest data show that in the past two decades around 40 percent of GHG agricultural outputs (including emissions from energy use) are based in Asia. The Americas has the second highest GHG emissions (close to 25 percent), followed by Africa, Europe and Oceania.
According to FAO, since 1990 the top ten emitters are: China, India, US, Brazil, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, Argentina, Pakistan and Sudan.
The need for climate-smart agriculture and food production systems becomes even more compelling when considering the shocking level of waste within the global food system. According to the first FAO study to focus on the environmental impacts of food wastage, released in 2013 (accessible here in pdf), each year food that is produced and gone to waste amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.
Food wastage’s carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere per year, to which must be added significant amounts of agricultural areas (1.4 billion hectares, globally) and water (250km3) used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.
How to meet global food needs (with global population projected to reach 9 billion in 2050) without overexploiting soil and water, and with lower emissions contributing to climate change (whose impacts in turn affect water and food security) is the greatest farming challenge of of today’s and tomorrow’s world.
Credit: Best Climate Practices
In keeping with its thrust to promote a culture of risk management across the region, the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre launched a seminal online support tool in Saint Lucia today. The launch event, which was attended by permanent secretaries from ministries of finance and planning, development partners, Saint Lucia’s Deputy Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre (among other St. Lucian officials), a broad cross-section of regional stakeholders and journalists, officially introduced the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation TooL (CCORAL).
In his keynote address Dr. James Fletcher, Saint Lucia’s Minister of Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, urged the region to ensure broad use and adaptability of CCORAL. He added that CCORAL, which has been endorsed by Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, will promote climate-smart development by helping to embed a risk management ethic in decision-making processes across the region.
“The development of the risk assessment tool [is] an extremely important asset in assessing the risk from the impacts of climate change in the Caribbean region,” according to Dr. Pachauri. The two dozen island nations of the Caribbean, and the 40 million people who live there, are in a state of increased vulnerability to climate change. Higher temperatures, sea level rise, and increased hurricane intensity threaten lives, property and livelihoods throughout the region. Against this background, CCORAL will help to boost the capacity of these countries to assess their risk amidst a variable and changing climate, while creating pathways for the identification and implementation of adaptation and mitigation options.
“CCORAL is a practical approach to cost-effective climate-resilient investment projects,” says Dr. Kenrick Leslie, Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. “CCORAL will aid the region in defining approaches and solutions that will provide benefits now and in the future by adopting ‘no-regret’ actions and flexible measures.”
It is intended to be used primarily by agencies at the regional and national level with responsibility for development, planning and finance, the private sector and non-governmental organisations. Ministries of Finance and/or Planning are central to the initial efforts to anchor this tool in climate resilience-building decisions. Notwithstanding, civil society organisations, universities, financial services and development partners, local communities can also use CCORAL to inform actions that must embed climate considerations. The tool is available to all member countries through an open source online platform at ccoral.caribbeanclimate.bz.
According to Keith Nichols, Programme Development Specialist at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, “the development of the risk assessment tool emerged after an extensive consultation process with regional stakeholders to ensure authenticity, relevance and ownership”. It is a direct response to the requirement of the Regional Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change (the “Regional Framework”) and the landmark Implementation Plan (IP) that were endorsed by CARICOM Heads in 2009 and 2012, respectively. The IP acknowledges that a transformational change in mindset, institutional arrangements, operating systems, collaborative approaches and integrated planning mechanisms are essential to deliver the strategic elements and goals of the Regional Framework and to enable climate smart development by embedding a risk management ethic in decision-making.
The Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation Tool (CCORAL), has been developed by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) with funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and the Climate Development and Knowledge Network (CDKN).
Updated July 12, 2013 at 12:07pm post-lauch
Dr. Jason Polk, Associate Director of Science at the Hoffman Environmental Research Institute, says climate-driven water resource problems in the Caribbean could give rise to another intractable problem, community resistance to increased costs and regulations, if a concerted effort to educate the public about the challenges and possible solutions is delayed. Read his exclusive contribution to Caribbean Climate.
The Caribbean is changing every day. The people are changing, as is the geography. Perhaps most importantly, the Caribbean’s climate is changing, like it always has for thousands of years, yet never under the scrutiny with which it is examined today. Geographically, the Caribbean is diverse in its makeup. Isolated islands and small coastal nations that seem lonely and individually reliant upon their ability to persevere against the onset of environmental challenges. These countries comprise a group that shares a long and rich history, and are collectively facing challenges in addressing the risks and impacts from global climate change. Of these, one of the most pressing is the potential impact on the region’s water resources.
Water. Simple, natural, and plentiful. Mention the Caribbean and one immediately thinks of the sea, warm beaches, hurricanes, and shipwrecks. While these images certainly are a reality, behind them exists a region in trouble due to a changing global climate and the demand for fresh water. So, a question to be answered is from where does one obtain water on a Caribbean island? From the rivers? From the ground? Maybe from the ocean? These are all questions needing both to be asked and answered by people of the Caribbean and those looking in from outside. In answering these questions, one may be better able to understand the complex and pressing challenges that climate change has on water resources in the region.
Over the past few decades, new information and events have spurned a closer examination of the future temperature and rainfall patterns of the Caribbean. Results from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and other regional climate studies indicate the Caribbean region will undergo significant changes, including the following:
- variability in seasonal rainfall distribution, including decreasing average rainfall amounts of up to 20% or more and subsequent droughts in some areas, while increased seasonal rainfall and flooding events may occur elsewhere
- changes in hurricane intensity and unpredictability, with the likelihood of more severe storms, including higher winds
- an increase in average temperatures across the region
- sea level rise of several millimeters or more, causing coastal inundation and changes in geography and topography
With these changes, there will be impacts on the fresh water resources of every nation in the region. Water stress will be one of the greatest challenges, as reduced precipitation and increasing temperatures will cause a lack of water availability in countries like the Bahamas, Grenada, and Jamaica, who already suffer from water scarcity. Several countries, such as Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, are among the most water-stressed nations in the world, meaning that they require more water than is available to the population on an annual basis. Part of this is due to the seasonal availability of rainfall, which is slowly changing due to climate variability.
The cause and effect relationship between precipitation and water scarcity is one of the simpler connections to be made from predicted climate change patterns; however, many others will arise and vary with regional geography, and potential water resource impacts include:
- challenges to access due to changing conditions in surface streams, springs, and groundwater supplies during drought conditions
- water quality issues that arise from flooding and population growth as communities and city centers grow in the face of declining agriculture
- increased flooding from severe storms and hurricanes
- salt water intrusion into coastal groundwater aquifers
- increasing water scarcity due to infrastructural challenges and limited capacity to adapt quickly enough to changing climatic conditions
For example, take Barbados, which relies primarily on groundwater from a karst aquifer. Karst is a landscape typified by caves and springs, wherein the rock dissolves away and water is stored in the remaining voids. This type of landscape is commonly found throughout the Caribbean region, and its water resources are highly vulnerable to impacts like pollution, drought, and sea-level rise. Inundation by salt-water can permanently ruin a karst aquifer’s freshwater supply, as the saline water will displace the freshwater, decreasing both its quantity and quality. In places like Barbados and Curacao, desalination plants are necessary to make up the difference in water demand and supply. However, these can be expensive to build and maintain, creating additional environmental consequences in the form of briny discharge and fossil fuel consumption. Curacao is among the region’s oldest user of desalination, having utilized the technology for many decades in the region; yet, today the demands for fresh water still exceed the supply capacity and larger plants are necessary to meet the island’s needs.
There will continue to be an increasing demand on water resources throughout the region from tourism growth as countries look toward economic gain to finance the mitigation of changing environmental conditions. Water utilities will need to be expanded, coastal development will require additional engineering solutions, and the cost of addressing the human health aspects of waterborne diseases may increase. Without a concerted effort to inform the public of the issues and possible solutions related to climate-driven water resource problems, a bigger challenge may be community resistance to increased costs and regulations. Even those people who opt for cheaper solutions, such as rainwater collection or local wells, may be forced to rely less on these as viable options if rainfall amounts decrease or salt water intrudes, and may demand access to public utilities as an alternative.
Water resource management policies and mitigation plans are often driven by political, economic, and developmental priorities, rather than science- or education- driven solutions, including technological and sustainable ways to adapt to climate change. In the Caribbean region, there exist several possible solutions already in use to varying degrees, including:
- rainwater collection from roofs using barrels and cisterns
- desalination plants that are solar powered and able to produce minimal byproducts
- purchasing and shipping in water from nearby locations (like the water barges used between Andros and Nassau, Bahamas)
- public education and outreach about conservation efforts
A comprehensive assessment of water resource demands, infrastructure, and policies across the region is needed in order to address the critical areas requiring attention. Leaders have resources available to them to assist in information gathering and decision-making, such as those provided by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and other groups. Several courses of action are possible to mitigate water resource challenges caused by climate change. Yet, the first step is to become educated about climate change science and both local and regional water resource issues. Community members can play a role at all levels, from individual conservation efforts to leading regional programs for entire communities. Most importantly, call for action to help build resiliency through education and training. To effect large-scale changes, nations must develop sustainable policies at a regional level to work together to address climate change impacts on water resources.
The reality is climate change impacts do not discriminate among nations, people, governments, economic levels, or geographies, nor do they wait for communities to prepare before occurring. Addressing climate change in the region requires that leaders and community members think locally and act globally. Get to know about climate change science. Get to know a neighbor. Get to know the geography of the Caribbean. Become a part of the conversation in your communities and in the region.
** Dr. Polk is an Assistant Professor of Geography and Geology at the University of Western Kentucky.
Peruse our vault of works (internal and external) on climate change and the Caribbean’s water sector here, by entering the keywords ‘water and climate change’. You’ll find guides on adaptation measures to address the absence of freshwater and coastal vulnerability, pilots, including the Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment System in Bequia, and national water sector strategies for Jamaica and Belize, and much more.