Climate change will see world’s rice output plummet by 70%

The world’s supply of rice is set to decrease dramatically as result of climate change, according to Jack Spencer, senior climate risk modeller at Risilience.

Spencer was speaking as part of a plenary session on ‘Societal Transitions towards a Lower Carbon Economy’ at the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies 14th Risk Summit, Just Transitions: Transforming Business Towards a Sustainable Future.

He suggested that securing the security of food supply will be a major challenge as a result of global warming, given that many of the world’s most important agricultural regions will be those most severely affected by rising temperatures.

As such, he added, by 2050 we can expect to see a 70% reduction in the global output of rice; a 31% reduction in the global output of wheat; and a 4% reduction in the global output of maize.

In China alone the predictions for rice production are worrying. According to a recent report in the New Scientist, Jin Fu at Peking University and her colleagues used data from nationwide observations and field experiments to model the impact of extreme rainfall on current and future rice yields across China.

They found that extreme rainfall has already reduced rice yields by 8 per cent compared with a world without human-made warming, a reduction comparable in magnitude to the impact of extreme heat.

In the coming decades, yields are expected to fall a further 8 per cent under climate scenarios in which average temperatures rise by 2 to 3°C by the end of the century.

Winners and losers

The transition to net zero by 2050 will see winners and losers in the global economy, with the European and US aviation sectors set to be disadvantaged, Spencer added, suggesting that the fall in demand for floor space in the coming decades will also adversely affect the Chinese construction sector.

However, Spencer was keen to stress that several industries are expected to benefit from the transition away from a carbon-based economy, singling out European railways, African construction, and biofuel producers in China.

Indeed, he added, biofuels will become increasingly important as the world moves to sustainable transportation, as there will be a greater need for biofuels given the impossibility of electrifying entire fleets.

Although Spencer suggested that the green economy will drive growth in the coming years as we respond to the challenge of climate change, nonetheless he emphasised that the risks it brings with it are considerable in terms of extreme weather, storms, heatwaves, and freezing.