Climate Central interviews David Lobell on climate change and global food production

With 2011 already off to such a wet start in many parts of the world, concerns of what flooding will do to food prices and availability in the coming months are starting to creep into the news. In Sri Lanka, flooding has devastated rice crops, and in North Dakota, heavy rain and snow is already threatening the spring wheat crop. And all this after last summer's Russian drought and heat wave helped drive global wheat prices higher.

But while farmers have always had to contend with the vagaries of the weather, a question of increasing importance is how agriculture will be affected by the climate changes projected to occur over the next century. Many scientists are studying which regions of the world may be impacted the most by increasing temperatures and changing precipitation regimes, and what is bound to happen to the supplies of the world's biggest cash crops, like wheat, corn, rice and soybeans.

A new report, The Food Gap, was released last week from the Universal Ecological Fund, and it has muddied the waters even further. The report reviews how global climate change will affect the fate of crop yields and food prices in 2020. Unfortunately, the report actually misinterpreted the connection between atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and expected global temperature increases - despite the fact that recent reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Academy of Sciences clearly identify the most current peer-reviewed understanding of this. The food study suggests that within 9 years, average global temperatures will be an average of 2.4°C warmer than during preindustrial times - or almost 1.5°C warmer than it was just last year.

This exceptionally high temperature projection is completely baseless, as NASA climate modeler Gavin Schmidt explained on the RealClimate blog - it's more likely that the planet will experience this kind of temperature change over 100 years, not merely one decade. Nevertheless, a number of news outlets published stories on the report's projections of how this dramatic climate change could impact the global food supply by 2020. Some publications posted corrections to their own stories, but I thought it would be helpful to take a step back and examine climate change and food security in 2020 and beyond. I spoke with Stanford University's David Lobell, who studies how climate change affects crop yields and food prices. He helped clarify what the current research says about climate change and food security.

Read the full interview here.