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Anticipated Costs of Climate Change on Agriculture and Natural Solutions [Part 1/2]
Exploring the Economic Impacts and Benefits of Nature-Based Solutions for Sustainable Agriculture in the Face of Climate Change.
Good morning readers, Climate change's anticipated costs on agriculture and the repercussions on the global economy are significant and far-reaching. The agricultural sector faces challenges such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and shifts in the geographical distribution of pests and diseases.
However, some nature-based solutions could help address these challenges according to the latest research, including windbreaks, suitable crop selection, reducing carbon emissions, and creating or restoring wetlands and maintaining healthy forests.
What are climate change’s anticipated costs on agriculture and the repercussions on the global economy?
Climate change poses a significant threat to agriculture worldwide, with potential costs projected to be substantial. These costs stem from various sources, including changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and shifts in the geographical distribution of pests and diseases. The precise economic impacts are challenging to estimate, given the complexities of climate systems and the various ways agriculture is affected. A recent study by Cornell University looked into it and estimated that climate change costs 7 years of ag productivity growth meaning that we are achieving the results that we could’ve achieved in 2016.
Increased temperatures, for instance, can directly affect crop yields. While warmer conditions may benefit agriculture in cooler regions to some extent, in regions that are already warm, additional warming can reduce the yields of major crops like wheat, rice, and maize. Moreover, prolonged heatwaves and droughts can devastate farming communities, leading to widespread crop failure and loss of livestock. The cost of these yield losses can be significant, especially for small-scale farmers in developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change. According to estimates provided by the French Government for the year 2050, an annual budget of 1 billion euros will be required to cover the additional costs associated with water shortages. These surcharges may include the cost of upgrading water infrastructure to meet environmental standards or to maintain water quality. Additionally, it may also include the cost of managing water resources in regions affected by drought or flood. Another 1 billion euros per year will be required to deal with the consequences of climate change, such as extreme weather events and rising sea levels. The government has also allocated 2 million euros to develop diagnostic tools to better understand climate change impacts. Furthermore, the budget includes 190 million euros per year for advisory services related to climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Finally, to renew 10% of the French orchard each year, the government has allocated 600 million euros annually. This budget will help support sustainable agriculture practices and promote biodiversity.
Climate change also can potentially increase the costs of managing pests and diseases. Warmer temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns can create more favorable conditions for various pests and diseases, potentially leading to significant crop losses. As a result, the economic costs of managing these pests and diseases, including the additional expenses for pesticides and other control measures, could increase substantially. The FAO estimates that each year plant diseases cost the global economy over $220 billion, and invasive insects at least $70 billion with further growth expected in the years to come.
Furthermore, extreme weather events like floods, storms, and cyclones can devastate agricultural sectors. These events can lead to immediate and severe losses, damaging crops and agricultural infrastructure, including irrigation systems and storage facilities. The cost of rebuilding and recovery after such events can be astronomical. In addition, climate change can exacerbate water scarcity issues, impacting irrigation and livestock water supplies, which could add to agricultural production costs. All these factors combined suggest a potentially significant economic burden for the agricultural sector due to climate change.
What are the benefits claimed by the various natural solutions?
Just like with anything else, there is no universal solution that works for everyone. The different nature-based solutions that are currently being utilized address various problems such as climate hazards, invasive pests, and unpredictability. It is crucial to differentiate between these solutions and understand their respective purposes:
Protecting crops during adverse weather conditions is a crucial aspect of successful farming. It is especially essential in regions prone to extreme events like wind, cyclones, and storms. Specific methods can help farmers safeguard their crops against such climatic disturbances. For instance, windbreaks can disrupt wind flow across fields, reducing the risk of crop damage. This can be achieved by planting rows of trees or constructing fences along the windward side of the crop field. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Florida, windbreaks can effectively reduce wind on the protected side up to a distance that ranges from 10 to 30 times the height of the windbreak. Among the other benefits that the study has demonstrated we find:
Reduced soil loss: Less wind means less soil erosion caused by heavy wind.
Reduced nutrient loss: Soil erosion causes a certain degree of nutrient loss as nutrients are usually stored in the top layer of soil.
Reduced evapotranspiration: Moisture remains meaning that we need to use less water.
Reduction of irrigation loss: As moisture remains, no need to overwater fields
Reduced impact on other crops: The dirt transported by the wind can affect other crops notably berries.
Protection from agricultural chemicals in the air: it shields from the chemicals that can be found in the wind.
Decreased bacteria caused by excessive wind and rain.
Choosing suitable crops for the right location is crucial for agricultural productivity. Certain crops grow better in specific soil types and climatic conditions. Therefore, understanding the local environment and selecting crops can yield more successful yields. For instance, some crops are more drought-resistant, while others require much water. Additionally, using natural products against pests can significantly reduce crop damage. For example, plants such as marigolds and lavender can deter pests, and certain flowers can attract beneficial insects that help control pest populations. According to a 2013 study conducted by E. et al., certain plants have the power to reduce the number of pests. For example, when Brussels sprouts were intercropped with malting barley, sage, or thyme, researchers observed a decrease in the presence of diamondback moths.
Reducing Carbon Emissions
Storing carbon in the soil is a potent strategy for decreasing agricultural emissions, contributing to the fight against climate change. Farmers can increase their soil's ability to absorb and retain carbon through a process called carbon sequestration. This involves farming practices such as agroforestry and intercropping. Agroforestry, which integrates trees into farming systems, not only boosts carbon content but also provides a habitat for beneficial insects and increases biodiversity. Intercropping, or growing multiple crops in close proximity, enhances soil health and fertility, improving carbon-storing capacity. Additionally, using insects and natural products to maintain soil health leads to more sustainable farming systems. Beneficial insects aid in decomposition and nutrient cycling, enriching the soil. Properly managed crop grazing can also contribute to soil carbon storage by stimulating plant growth and enhancing soil structure. By combining these practices, agriculture can become more sustainable and climate-smart.
Nature-based solutions harness the power of natural systems to address societal challenges, including preventing environmental catastrophes. For instance, creating or restoring wetlands can be a natural buffer against floods, absorbing excess water and slowly releasing it into the environment. Similarly, maintaining healthy forests can prevent landslides and soil erosion, as the root systems of trees hold the soil together, increasing its stability. Constructing 'living shorelines' using natural materials like oyster shells or marsh plants can help combat coastal erosion and rising sea levels, offering a sustainable alternative to concrete seawalls.
“Wetlands are critical habitats for a wide range of organisms, including shellfish, fish, birds, amphibians, and more. They also play a crucial role in the fishing economies of many states and tribes. These areas are often preserved as feeding and resting grounds for migratory birds and to create habitat corridors for wildlife populations, generating commercial, recreational, and aesthetic benefits. Additionally, wetlands help control erosion, limit flooding, moderate groundwater levels, and base flow, assimilate nutrients, protect drinking water sources, and buffer coastal areas from storm surges. Some states pursue wetland restoration to improve water quality and meet Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollutant allocations in impaired waters and watersheds.” Stated the US EPA.
Most of the solutions that were cited above could be included in regenerative agriculture. This is a holistic approach that seeks to restore soil health, sequester carbon, and increase biodiversity. This approach goes beyond sustainable farming by aiming to regenerate the land and systems used for agriculture. It covers cropping, reduced tillage, and organic farming, enhancing the soil's organic matter and improving water retention and nutrient availability. By doing so, regenerative agriculture makes farming systems more resilient to climate change impacts like droughts and floods. It also increases the farm's productivity and potential for carbon sequestration, contributing to climate change mitigation. Both crop rotation and regenerative agriculture underscore the importance of working with nature, rather than against it, to build a more resilient and sustainable agriculture sector.