'A foretaste of what will happen as global warming takes hold'
The Independent (U.K.), Aug. 31, 2003
This summer's heatwave has drastically cut harvests across Europe, plunging the world into an unprecedented food crisis, startling new official figures show.
Separate calculations by two leading institutions monitoring the global harvest show that the scorching weather has severely reduced European grain production, ensuring that the world will not produce enough to feed itself for the fourth year in succession, and plunging stocks to the lowest level on record. And experts predict that the damage to crops will be found to be even greater when the full cost of the heat is known.
They say that, as a result, food prices will rise worldwide, and hunger will increase in the world's poorest countries. And they warn that this is just a foretaste of what will happen as global warming takes hold.
Sunshine and warmth are, of course, good for plants and there were hopes that this year's good summer would produce a bumper harvest. But excessive heat and low rainfall damage crops, and the heatwave - which brought temperatures of more than 100F to Britain for the first time, and gave France 11 consecutive days above 95F, killing more than 1,000 people - has done enormous damage.
The US Department of Agriculture has cut its forecast for this year's grain harvest by 32 million tons, mainly because of the European crop reductions. On Thursday, the International Grains Council - an intergovernmental body - reduced its own prediction even further, by 36 million tons, as a result of "heat and drought, particularly in Europe."
The damage has been most severe in Eastern Europe, which is now bringing in its worst wheat crop in three decades: in Ukraine, the harvest has been cut from 21 million tons last year to five million, while Romania has its worst crop on record. Germany is the worst-hit EU country: some farmers in the south-east have lost half their grain harvest. Official British figures will not be published until October.
The final tally of the summer's damage is likely to be worse still. Lester Brown, the president of Washington's authoritative Earth Policy Institute, predicts that it will cut another 20 million tons off the world harvest, making this a catastrophic year.
It has come at a time when world food supplies were already at their most precarious ever. The world has eaten more grain than it has produced every year so far this century, driving stocks well below the safety margin to their lowest levels in the 40 years that records have been kept. The amount of grain produced for each person on earth is now less than at any time in more than three decades.
Until about a month ago, this year had been expected to produce a reasonable harvest, allowing some recovery. But the heatwave has now ensured that it will make things even worse, and experts say that the crisis will deepen as global warming increases.
Grain prices have already increased, and Mr Brown warns that in coming years they may move to a permanently higher level. This would encourage greater production, he says, but at the expense of the world's hungry, who could then afford even less food, and of the environment, as farming intensified.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
RECORD TEMPERATURES SHRINKING WORLD GRAIN HARVEST
Monthly Drop Equal to One Half of U.S. Wheat Harvest
Lester R. BrownOn August 12 at 8:30 a.m., the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its monthly estimate of the world grain harvest, reporting a 32-million-ton drop from the July estimate. When grain futures markets opened later in the morning, prices of wheat, rice, and corn jumped.
This 32-million-ton drop, equal to half the U.S. wheat harvest, was concentrated in Europe where record-high temperatures have withered crops. The affected region stretched from the United Kingdom and France in the west through the Ukraine in the east. The searing heat damaged crops in virtually every country in Europe.
The soaring temperatures of the past several weeks rewrote the record book. On August 10, the temperature in London reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)--the first triple-digit reading on record in the United Kingdom. France had 11 consecutive days in August with temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). In Italy, temperatures reached 41 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit).
The heat wave in Europe started in early summer when Switzerland, situated in the heart of Europe, experienced the hottest June since record keeping began 140 years ago. In July the heat wave spread across the rest of Europe.
Crops suffered the most in Eastern Europe, which is harvesting its smallest wheat crop in 30 years. In the Ukraine, the wheat crop, already severely damaged by winter kill, was reduced further by the heat, plummeting from 21 million tons last year to 5 million tons this year. As a result, the
Ukraine, a leading wheat exporter last year, has been forced to import wheat as bread prices threaten to spiral out of control. Romania, which was particularly hard hit by heat and drought, is expecting to harvest the smallest wheat crop on record. The Czech Republic is expecting its poorest grain harvest in 25 years.
The prolonged heat wave, which persisted through mid August, also reduced the German grain harvest. The German Farmers Union reports that in southeastern Germany some farmers may lose half of their grain crop.
This reduced estimate of the world grain harvest will expand the world grain shortfall this year to 82 million tons. With projected world grain consumption of 1,912 million tons exceeding production of 1,830 million tons by 4 percent, the world is engaged in a massive drawdown of grain stocks.
(See data at http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update27_data.htm.)
With this year's drawdown, world grain stocks have dropped to the lowest level since the early 1970s. When world grain stocks dropped to a dangerously low level in 1973, world prices of wheat and rice doubled.
As atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels climb higher each year in an unbroken ascent, they are creating a greenhouse effect, raising the earth's temperature. Over the last quarter century the earth's average temperature has risen 0.7 degrees Celsius or more than 1 degree Fahrenheit.
As temperatures rise, crop-withering heat waves are becoming more and more common. Last year the grain harvests in India and the United States were hit hard by high temperatures and drought. This year Europe is bearing the brunt.
During this life-threatening heat wave Europeans may have felt that the temperature could not rise much higher, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of some 1,500 of the world's leading climate scientists, is projecting a rise in average global temperature of somewhere between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius) during
this century if we continue with business-as-usual energy policies.
Even if the earth's temperature increases only a few degrees, as in the low end of the IPCC projections, we will likely see heat waves far more intense than anything we can easily imagine. If rising temperatures shrink harvests and drive up food prices, consumer pressure to reduce the use of fossil fuels will intensify. Indeed, rising food prices could be the first global economic indicator to signal the need for a fundamental shift in energy policy, one that would move the world toward renewable energy sources and away from climate-disrupting fossil fuels.
Copyright 2003 Earth Policy Institute