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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Climate change 'will hit the hungry'
The effects of global warming are discussed at the Open Science Conference in Amsterdam
The impact of climate change will vary from country to country
By BBC News Online environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The warming climate will mean the world's poorest countries could lose up to a quarter of their food production, scientists claim.

The 40 countries likely to be worst hit have a combined population of about two billion people.

In south Asia, where two-thirds of the world's undernourished people live, India will lose 125 million tonnes of cereal annually

Around 450 million of them are already undernourished, and the number will inevitably grow.

But many developed countries can expect bigger harvests as the global climate continues to heat up.

Global report

The scientists' forecast comes in a report by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The UK's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research contributed to the study.

The report, Global Agro-ecological Assessment for Agriculture in the 21st Century, was released at the Open Science Conference on global change, being held in Amsterdam from 10 to 13 July.

Although studies of the impact of climate change on agriculture have been done for individual countries, this is said to be the first time a standard methodology has been applied globally.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has detailed how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) as the climate warms will mean better growing conditions in some areas.

Mixed effects

But the associated higher temperatures and changes in rainfall may have mixed effects.

In some areas, they may result in worse problems with pests and diseases, more droughts, or at least increased pressure on existing water resources.

Some countries will be able to cultivate previously frost-bound land
The report says more than half the developed countries are expected to gain from climate change through an improved capacity for growing food.

Canada and Russia will be able to cultivate land that was previously frost-bound, and together should produce an extra 130 million tonnes.

Finland, Norway and New Zealand should also benefit. But cereal production could fall in France, Ukraine and the US, as well as the UK and Australia, where the soil will be drier.

Developing countries lose

The report says 65 developing countries, representing more than half the developing world's total population in 1995, could lose about 280 million tonnes of potential cereal production in the 2080s.

It identifies India, Bangladesh, Brazil and many countries in sub-Saharan Africa as among the most vulnerable.

drought in Africa
Developing countries contribute less to global warming, but suffer its consequences.
In South Asia, where two-thirds of the world's undernourished people live, India could lose 125 million tonnes of cereal annually, 18% of its maximum harvest potential, on the calculation of one crop per year.

But China could gain, with production increasing by 15%. Other potential beneficiaries are central Asian countries, some in South America, and Kenya and South Africa.

One of the report's authors, Dr Mahendra Shah, said: "It's not simply a matter of increasing temperatures and precipitation.

"Many of these countries already have a food gap, and there is no margin for loss in cultivation potential. At present there are a total of some 780 million undernourished people in 78 developing countries.

Equity and fairness

"For a third of these countries, accounting for about half of the total number of undernourished people, the current annual cereal food gap totals some 10 million tonnes.

"In this group of countries, with a total population of some two billion, more than half of the population derive their livelihood from agriculture."

Another author, Guenther Fischer, said: "The report raises issues of equity and fairness.

"Developing countries have so far contributed relatively little to the causes of global warming. Yet many of them will bear the brunt of climate change through loss of food production.

"The burden will undoubtedly fall disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable."

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