Climate change worsens China’s food security problem

A recent study by researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research found that rising global temperatures caused by the emission of greenhouse gases could lead to a doubling of pests and of crop diseases in China by the end of the century. They warn that this could weigh heavily on food producers and threaten the country’s food security. China’s carbon emissions have soared following the country’s reopening after the Covid-19 pandemic. This was mainly driven by growth in the construction, energy and steel sectors. Without serious reduction, it seems unlikely that China will be able to mitigate the disastrous impact these emissions will have on its agriculture industry and food security as a whole.

Agriculture in the context of climate change

The abundance of crop pests and diseases (CPD) has increased by 400% in China since the 1970s. A study, conducted by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, showed that climate change, resulting from greenhouse gas emissions, was responsible for more than a fifth of this growth and could lead to further increases in the future. They claim that in a potential worst-case scenario, in which the Earth’s average temperature rises by 4.4°C, CPDs could double by the end of the century and pose a significant threat to the world’s food supply.

In contrast, China’s carbon emissions have skyrocketed since the reopening of its economy last year. This was mainly due to the growth of its construction, steel and cement industries, which saw an increase of up to 14.5% in CO2 emissions. In December, coal also reached a record production of 384.67 tonnes, according to Reuters. For the year as a whole, this number reached 4.07 billion tonnes, up 4.7% compared to 2020.

China, however, has a plan to curb this growth. Xi Jingping’s 15th five year plan, which should come into force between the years 2026-2030, aims to reach a peak in coal consumption in the country before 2030. The steel industry, which accounts for 30% of this coal use and has already been targeted by Strategies promote greener steel plant developments, energy conservation and energy efficiency improvements. These aim to reduce the emissions produced by the sector even earlier, with a peak before 2025 and a steady decrease of 30% by 2030.

The Potsdam scientists responsible for the study claimed that if the global average temperature remains below a 2°C increase, the appearance of CPD by the end of the century will only show a slight increase from 2020 levels which would give agricultural research a chance to reduce its impact.

Can China Reduce Its Emissions Enough?

In his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos a few weeks ago, Xi Jingping announced that it would be “impossible for China to achieve its climate goals all at once” according to a translation provided by Carbon Brief. The speech also saw Xi calling on the country to break old systems while establishing new ones. He went further than previous speeches that urged “establishing new systems before rupture [old ones]suggesting a more proactive approach to the country’s green transition. However, for Wang, co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Xi’s speech mainly emphasized the need for “patience and understanding in the face of [China’s] slow gestures.

Despite the increase in the use of coal in steel and electricity, others have argued that China still on track to meet 2030 target. Dr. Yang Muyi, senior Asia power policy analyst at Ember (an independent climate and energy think tank) points out that the recent increase in coal production in China is in line with its production coal from other years since 2017 – growth was 3.2% in 2017, 4.5% the year after and 4.2% the year after. In his argument, 2020 was removed as an exception to the trend. China’s coal production growth has indeed declined, falling 15% from 2010. Still, Yang says huge steps will need to be taken to limit climate change to its internationally agreed 1.5° rise. vs.

A study published in the research journal Nature Communications showed that if China’s current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to carbon emissions are followed, emissions will peak at 10.4 GtCO2 in 2030 and steadily decline to 7.3 GtCO2 in 2050. Nonetheless, the paper points out that if no additional climate action is taken before 2030, a massive drop in emissions between 2030 and 2050 will be inevitable if China is to meet its international commitments and stay below the cumulative emissions threshold of 259 GtCO2 for the period.

As the most polluting industry, serious reductions in the electricity sector will have the best chance of moving forward and reducing peak carbon emissions overall. Without this, a peak in 2030 will force China to reabsorb 0.5 to 1.6 GtCO2 in 2050. The paper concludes that it is critical for China to decarbonize its electricity sector relatively quickly to allow time to transition electrical systems and begin to reduce other economic sectors, such as transport and construction.

What does this mean for PCDs in Chinese agriculture?

Given Dr. Muyi’s argument, China is still on track to meet its 2030 carbon emissions target, which would allow for a steady reduction in carbon emissions after the peak between 2025 and 2030. This suggests that, taking into account all other factors, they remain stable. , climate change may not be ready to push CPD abundance beyond a number that would destroy China’s agricultural economy.

According to Carbon Brief, China best bet would be to reverse policies in favor of construction and real estate while strengthening support for “high quality” growth such as services and high-tech sectors. Government policies aimed at reducing developers’ dependence on debt have contributed to this, with slump housing prices forecast for 2022 and 2023.

However, that probably won’t be enough. Xi’s plea for patience in the face of China’s slow energy transition underscores that he may not be ready to make the rapid cuts needed to stay below the 259 GtCO2 emissions threshold in 2050. High energy demands will continue to delay reductions, government repulsive against international pressure to start replacing its coal-fired power plants before 2026.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calculates that almost 40% of the world’s crops are currently destroyed by pests every year, costing the global economy billions of dollars. Given China’s prominence within the food industry as the world’s largest producer of rice and wheat and the world’s second largest producer of maize, a moderate year-over-year increase in CPD is likely to increase this while significantly destabilizing both its economy and the world’s food supply. to supply.

It is also possible that a number of other major crop-producing countries will be invaded by SCPs by 2050. Although given the limited information on trends in crop pests and diseases, conclusions are difficult to draw. shoot. Xuhui Wang, assistant professor at Peking University, however, calls for international collaboration to control the spread of disease. He points out that “the consequences of climate change are not only manifested by a warmer climate. It is through the interconnectedness of the entire biosphere that threatens or… puts our food security at increased risk.

It is therefore likely that over the next five years we will see a greater proportion of the world’s food at risk from SCPs caused by warmer climates. With this, it is essential that we begin to develop long-term methods to control these pests, through scientific progress, pesticides or through a much more targeted approach to climate change. China’s ability to achieve this will depend heavily on Xi’s ability to align his country’s economic growth with his environmental responsibility.

By Global Risk Insights

More reading on

Teresa H. Sadler