The World Needs to Prepare for Massive Crop Failure, Study Says

The climate crisis has changed weather patterns, and this could increase crop failure in multiple agricultural regions around the world, a new study says. In a report published in Nature Communications this week, researchers in the U.S. and Germany outline how food-producing regions of the world will see significantly lower crop yields in the near future.

The researchers analyzed climate models and observational data from 1960 and 2014 and then looked at future projections between 2045 and 2099. By analyzing the data, they found that a changing jet stream has contributed to crop failure in the past. Jet streams are air currents that change weather patterns around the world. But many scientists have observed that climate change is changing how jet streams move, which could challenge crop-growing regions around the world. Climate models are equipped to show those changes in the atmosphere, but these models cannot always show how it affects conditions on the ground.

The study explains that under a high emissions scenario, a “strongly meandering jet stream” or a wavy jet stream could actually trigger some of these lower crop yield events worldwide. Data showed the researchers that years with “more than one wave event” often lead regional crop yields to drop up to 7%. They also found that agricultural regions in Eastern Europe, East Asia, and North America were likely to be impacted by these events. The study referenced a heat wave that significantly hurt agriculture in Russia back in 2010. The high temperatures that year were connected to a shift in the jet stream, according to the researchers.

Russia’s heat wave destroyed 9 million hectares (22,239,484 acres) of crops, and it also sparked droughts and forest fires, according to the UK Met Office. The fires killed Russians and displaced many families from their homes. That July, the city of Moscow recorded 14,000 deaths, that’s more than 5,000 more deaths compared to July 2009. This was just one event related to changes in the jet stream. “Potentially disruptive impacts have become more common and will increase further if greenhouse gas emissions remain unmitigated,” study authors warned.

Kai Kornhuber, a lead author in the study and researcher at Columbia University called this information a “wake up call.” He emphasized that instances of crop failure are underestimated, which could mean less adequate preparations worldwide. “We need to be prepared for these types of complex climate risks in the future and the models at the moment seem to not capture this,” he said in a press release.

This will worsen an already significant issue. More than 800 million people around the world were considered food insecure in 2021, according to the United Nations. That number increased in 2020 during initial covid lockdowns. Volker Türk, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, recently warned that climate change-related disasters will probably increase that number by more than 80 million by the middle of this century.

Want more climate and environment stories? Check out Earther’s guides to decarbonizing your home, divesting from fossil fuels, packing a disaster go bag, and overcoming climate dread. And don’t miss our coverage of the latest IPCC climate report, the future of carbon dioxide removal, and the un-greenwashed facts on bioplastics and plastic recycling.

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