Climate Change: Big Drop in Crop Yields Forecast

MARRAKECH, Morocco, November 7, 2001 (ENS) - Ministers and heads of government met today at the High-Level Segment of COP-7, the 7th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. They are working against a deadline of Friday night to finalize the rulebook for the Kyoto climate protocol that will limit the emission of greenhouse gases by industrialized nations.

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Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco (Photos courtesy IISD/ENB-Leila Mead)
This morning delegates heard speeches from representatives of UN bodies and specialized agencies. The afternoon and evening were filled with statements from 44 ministers and other heads of delegation.

Prince Moulay Rachid of the host country Morocco, speaking on behalf of King Mohammed VI, emphasized the need for internationally shared ethical values and environmental concerns. He called for technology transfer, additional financial resources, and reduction of external debt burdens.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) addressed the delegates on behalf of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He highlighted the urgent need for long term changes in social and economic behaviors to counteract climate change.

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UNEP chief Klaus Toepfer addresses COP-7 today.
Toepfer urged delegates "to remember the billions of people living at or near the poverty line whose lives face ruin as a result of global warming. Delegates are here to agree the operational rule book for fighting climate change. This must not only be agreed and be effective, but brought into force as matter of urgency," he said.

UNEP today released scientific evidence that that rising temperatures, linked with emissions of greenhouse gases, can damage the ability of vital crops such as rice, corn and wheat, to flower and set seed. Key cash crops such as coffee and tea in some of the major growing regions will also be vulnerable over the coming decades to global warming.

At a time when there is an urgent need to raise crop yields to feed a growing global population, harvests of some of the world's most important foods could fall by as much as a third as a result of climate change, scientists are warning.

The findings on staple food crops have come from researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in Manila, Philippines, which is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has worked with members of this Group on issues such as agro-forestry over recent years.

"A similar threat to cash crops is also emerging in areas such as East Africa," Toepfer said. "Poor farmers here face declining yields and incomes in the traditional coffee and tea growing areas pushing them into even more biting poverty. Just to survive, they will be forced to clear forests in higher, cooler, areas. This can only add to environmental damage which in turn can lead to increased poverty, hunger and ill health."

The findings on cash crops have come from GRID Arendal, a UNEP collaborative center based in southern Norway, known for its mapping skills.

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Corn (Photo courtesy International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center)
New studies indicate that for every one degree Celsius rise in areas such as the Tropics, crop yields could drop by as much as 10 percent.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the team of scientists that advises governments, estimate that average, global, temperatures in the Tropics could climb by as much as three degrees C by 2100.

Under scenarios developed by the IPCC, climate change could benefit agricultural production in some areas of the globe such as Canada and Siberia.

The negotiators worked through to an agreement on compliance with the limitations on the emission of six greenhouse gases - a contentious section of the Kyoto Protocol rulebook. Delegates also adopted draft conclusions on the provision of financial and technical support. A number of key issues have yet to be resolved.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, an addition UN framework climate change treaty, 38 industrialized nations have agreed to cut their emissions of six greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Thirty-nine were to have been governed by the original agreement signed in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997, but the Bush administration in March said that the United States would not ratify the protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol will not take effect until it is ratified by 55 percent of the nations responsible for at least 55 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990.

The countries who ratify must reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases to an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the five year period 2008 to 2012.