The effects of climate change on global agriculture could lead to an additional half a million deaths annually by 2050, a study published in The Lancet finds.
According to the report, Global and Regional Health Effects of Future Food Production Under Climate Change: A Modelling Study (abstract), extreme weather events such as floods and heat waves could cut estimated increases in food availability by a third by 2050, with lower harvest and crop yields leading to a reduction of 99 calories per person per day and a 4 percent drop in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, even as the consumption of red meat dips only 0.7 percent. Were that to happen, the rise in related illnesses such as stroke, cancer, and heart disease could result in 529,000 additional deaths annually by 2050, compared to an alternative future in which increases in food availability and consumption result in the prevention of some 1.9 million deaths annually. Indeed, reduced consumption of fruits and vegetables due to climate change is projected to cause twice as many deaths as increased malnutrition, the study found.
Low- and middle-income countries in the Western Pacific region and Southeast Asia are likely to be the most negatively affected, the report notes, while nearly three-quarters of all climate-related deaths are expected to occur in China and India. "Climate change mitigation could prevent many climate-related deaths," the report concludes. "Strengthening of public health programs aimed at preventing and treating diet and weight-related risk factors could be a suitable climate change adaptation strategy."
"There should be enough food to produce a better diet in 2050 than we currently have globally, but if you add in climate change then you lose some of those improvements," study co-author Peter Scarborough of the University of Oxford told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "We need to be mitigating greenhouse gases. If we do, it will bring down the health impact of climate change."