A study led by The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK)-University of Exeter Joint Centre for Environmental Sustainability and Resilience (ENSURE) projected that yields of the world’s staple food crops will be reduced by up to 22% by 2050 due to the combined impact of ground-level ozone pollution and global climate change. South Asia will be one of the hardest hit regions as extreme weather events caused by climate change alone will lead to up to 40% less rice being produced by the end of this century. This will have detrimental effect on food sources as rice is the daily staple for more than 3.5 billion people around the world. The findings were published in Environmental Research Letters, a leading journal in the environmental sciences.
Global food crisis
The study used the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) land surface model with crop-specific ozone damage parameters to quantify and estimate the year-to-year integrated impacts of ozone pollution, carbon dioxide levels and climate change on the yields of four staple food crops–maize, soybeans, wheat and rice, from now until the end of the 21st century. It not only examined the global patterns but also focused on major crop-producing regions such as China, the US, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Europe, enabling the investigation of the importance of each stress factor in different regions.
The study revealed that global food security and hunger crisis will be worsened if proper actions are not taken immediately. As a collaborative project between Prof. Amos Tai of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Programme at CUHK and Prof. Stephen Sitch in the Department of Geography at Exeter (both Co-Directors of ENSURE), the research team advocates that climate mitigation and clean air should combine with technological advancements in crop science in the long run. Continued development of crop cultivars that are heat- and ozone-tolerant and supplemented with nutrients will help improve food security and human nutrition as the population grows.
Tackling grand challenges collaboratively
This study has been made possible with the support of ENSURE. Found in 2018, ENSURE aims to tackle emerging issues related to the changing environment and their effects on human health and wellbeing by developing large-scale collaborative projects that promote research excellence. The joint centre has made substantial progress in a number of collaborative projects and engaged over 40 researchers in the fields of earth system science, economics, environment and energy, geography, law, life sciences, mathematics, public health, and public policy, making significant impact on climate research to address sustainability challenges.