Extreme Heat Affecting Farmworkers & World Food Production

Heat-related mortality during the summer of 2022 in Europe may have exceeded 70,000 deaths according to a study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and published in The Lancet

In another study, published in the journal Environmental Research Communications, it has been found that farmworkers across the world are being increasingly exposed to combinations of extreme heat and humidity during planting and harvest seasons that can make it hard for them to function. Such conditions have nearly doubled across the world since 1979.

The most affected crop is rice, the world’s number one staple, followed closely by maize. As temperatures rise, the trend has accelerated in recent years, with some regions seeing 15-day per-decade increases in extreme humid heat during cultivation seasons.

A rice farmer outside Yen Bai, Vietnam. Image credit: Dannie Dinh/International Research Institute for Climate and Society

The researchers found that many major agricultural regions already experience three months of 27C conditions or worse during the year as a whole. These include the Amazon, northern Colombia and parts of Mexico; the coasts of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf; southeast Asia; and much of Malaysia and Indonesia. Countries that see two months or more include Senegal, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon and the northern region of Australia.

On shorter time scales, during the crucial planting and harvest seasons, close to half of the world’s rice cropland is already subject to extreme conditions at some point each year. For maize the number is about a third.

Upward changes over the past four decades in extreme humid heat days over the calendar year in crop-producing regions. Warmer colours indicate faster increases. Image credit: Adapted from Diaz et al., Environmental Research Communications, 2023)

Another recent paper looking at heat risk to the over 1 million hired agricultural workers in the United States found that they are already 20 times more likely to die of  illnesses related to heat stress than U.S. civilian workers overall. Apart from the nature of their work, their risks are compounded by poverty and lack of access to health care.

The latest Emissions Gap Report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) finds that current pledges under the Paris Agreement put the world on track for a 2.5-2.9°C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels this century, pointing to the urgent need for increased climate action. 

 Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP explained:

“There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature highs and extreme weather. We must instead lift the needle out of the same old groove of insufficient ambition and not enough action, and start setting other records: on cutting emissions, on green and just transitions and on climate finance.” 

Until the beginning of October this year, 86 days were recorded with temperatures over 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. September was the hottest recorded month ever, with global average temperatures 1.8°C above pre-industrial levels.  

The report finds that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased by 1.2 per cent from 2021 to 2022 to reach a new record of 57.4 Gigatonnes of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (GtCO2e). GHG emissions across the G20 increased by 1.2 per cent in 2022. Emissions trends reflect global patterns of inequality. Because of these worrying trends and insufficient mitigation efforts, the world is on track for a temperature rise far beyond the agreed climate goals during this century.  The world needs to cut 2030 emissions by 28 per cent to get on track to achieve the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement, with a 66 per cent chance, and 42 per cent for the 1.5°C goal.  

The report calls for all nations to deliver economy-wide, low-carbon development transformations, with a focus on the energy transition. The coal, oil and gas extracted over the lifetime of producing and planned mines and fields would emit over 3.5 times the carbon budget available to limit warming to 1.5°C, and almost the entire budget available for 2°C. 

Countries with greater capacity and responsibility for emissions – particularly high-income and high-emitting countries among the G20 – will need to take more ambitious and rapid action and provide financial and technical support to developing nations. As low- and middle-income countries already account for more than two thirds of global GHG emissions, meeting development needs with low-emissions growth is a priority in such nations – such as addressing energy demand patterns and prioritizing clean energy supply chains. 

However, successive reports are largely being ignored by politicians and governments when money talks – “Humanity has opened the gates to hell”: but Rosebank Oil Field Goes Head Amid #ClimateEmergency

Fiona Grahame

Categories: Science

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