Reduction of tariffs and other barriers could decrease projected number of undernourished people by 64 percent
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study by researchers from KU Leuven, the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and RTI International published Monday shows that international trade can relieve regional food shortages and reduce hunger caused by climate change, particularly when protectionist measures and other barriers to trade are eliminated.
“Climate change presents a threat to food security in many regions, so it is critical that we find ways to mitigate its effects,” said Justin Baker, PhD, a senior economist at RTI and study co-author. “International trade has an important role in in reducing future food shortages because it can lower the cost of staple food crops in regions that may see decreased yields under climate change.”
Under current level of trade integration climate change would lead to up to 55 million people undernourished in 2050. Without adaptation through trade, global climate change impacts would increase to 73 million additional people undernourished (+33%), while reduction of tariffs and other barriers would decrease the negative impact to 20 million people (-64%), according to the study.
“If regions like Europe and Latin America, for example, where wheat and corn thrive, increase their production and export food to regions under heavy pressure from global warming, food shortages can be reduced,” said doctoral researcher Charlotte Janssens of KU Leuven, a research university in Flanders, Belgium. “It sounds quite obvious, but there are many barriers that complicate this free trade.”
Climate change has consequences for agriculture worldwide, with clear differences between regions. Expectations are that sufficient food will remain available in the Northern hemisphere, but in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, falling crop yields may lead to higher food prices and a sharp rise in hunger. Further liberalization of world trade can relieve these regional differences.
The study points to tariffs as a major barrier to international trade in food. In some countries, logistics are a barrier, too. Roads are sometimes in poor condition and ports are not equipped for loading and unloading large container ships, the researchers note.
The research team came to its conclusions after examining 60 different scenarios. They accounted for different forms of trade policy, along with climate change varying from a 2- to 4-degree warming of the Earth. The year 2050 was set as the horizon for each scenario.
To view the full study, published by Nature Climate Change, click here.