Rice, corn and wheat loss rates could rise by up to 25% with every 1˚C increase to global temperatures as insects start to eat and breed more, new research has found.
Led by researchers at Washington University, the study forecasts global warming of 2˚C to push the losses of these three crops up to approximately 213 million tons every year.
This could have severe implications for global food security, with corn, rice and wheat considered staples for around four billion people, and accounting for two-thirds of food energy intake worldwide.
“Global warming impacts on pest infestations will aggravate the problems of food insecurity and environmental damages from agriculture,” study co-author, Rosamond Naylor, said.
“It appears that, under virtually all climate change scenarios, pest populations will be the winners, particularly in highly productive temperate regions, causing real food prices to rise and food-insecure families to suffer.”
The study concludes that crop loss to insects would not be as profound in places like the tropics, as temperatures there are already optimal to maximise insect reproductive and metabolic rates.
However, areas like the ‘corn belt’ in the US Midwest could be hit particularly hard.
The researchers said farmers and governments could try to lessen the impact by shifting where crops are grown or trying to breed insect-resistant crops, but that these methods are likely to take time and be costly.
This comes after separate research from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that climate change could cut the global supply of vegetables by more than a third by 2050.
Changes in water availability and ozone concentrations are predicted to be the key drivers behind vegetable loss, with millions of people priced out of buying common crops like tomatoes, leafy vegetables and pulses.
“Our analysis suggests that if we take a ‘business as usual’ approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods,” study lead author, professor Alan Dangour, said.
“Urgent action needs to be taken, including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes and this must be a priority for governments across the world.”