The vulnerability of agriculture to climate change together with a key position to mitigate its effects creates a challenging but exciting scenario for innovation in the AgriFood sector. KTN, as a network working to drive innovation, supports companies and researchers working to develop more resilient food systems and to mitigate agricultural impacts on climate change.
Extreme conditions bring on challenges for the AgriFood sector
Predicted consequences of climate change include higher temperatures and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, fires or heavy storms. In the UK, average annual temperatures are likely to increase between 0.7-3.5℃ by 2070, under a medium emissions scenario. But some of these changes in weather patterns are already impacting societies and industries around the globe, including the devastating 2019-20 fire season in Australia, an unprecedented heatwave in Siberia or the super-cyclones in India and Bangladesh. In the UK, 2020 has brought record-breaking weather conditions, including the wettest February and England’s driest May on record. This variability between extreme conditions make agriculture and food production even more challenging.
The AgriFood sector is highly inter-connected with climate change; whilst food production is greatly dependent on the weather, agriculture is also an important contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Impacts on food systems are not restricted to the direct effect of higher temperatures, elevated CO2 or water scarcity. A warming climate is also aggravating land degradation, reducing the availability of fertile soil for food production. Climate change also challenges long-term planning in agricultural production and it is increasing the severity and changing the geographical distribution of insect pests. Unprecedented weather conditions in Kenya due to climate change have contributed to the worst outbreak of desert locusts in 70 years, which has caused devastation across areas of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Regarding its contribution to climate change, in 2019 agriculture accounted for approximately 20% of the total GHG emissions worldwide; looking at the entire food chain, the contribution increases to approximately 29%. In the UK, agriculture contributes to approximately 10% of the total GHG emissions. Before reaching our plates, food production contributes directly and indirectly to the generation of GHG at various stages of the supply chain. Livestock produces methane during digestion, nitrous oxide is released from fertilizer use and the transport and packaging of food often relies on fossil fuels. Reducing the impact of agriculture on climate change is a priority reflected in national and international policies. In 2019, the UK legally committed to reduce GHG emissions to net zero by 2050; contributing to this goal, The National Farmers Union (NFU) has developed a strategy to ensure net zero emissions from agriculture by 2040. At the European level, the From Farm to Fork Strategy aims to build a sustainable food chain and it is part of the European Green Deal, a strategy to make Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050.