Alarming new research shows that climate change and
increased carbon dioxide (CO2) could lead to global shortages of key nutrients
such as protein, iron and zinc over the next 30 years.
“We have recently made great strides in reducing global undernutrition, but global population growth over the next 30 years will require increased production of food that provides adequate nutrition," explained Timothy Sulser, a senior scientist at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and co-author of the study. "These findings suggest that climate change may slow the progress of global nutrition improvement by simply making key nutrients less available than they would be without it.”
The total impact could reduce global per capita nutrient supplies of protein, iron and zinc by 19.5%, 14.4% and 14.6%, respectively. The researchers also took into account technological advances in their work, but unfortunately, they did not offset the effects of global warming.
Furthermore, they found that the impact varied from place to place. They estimate that these impacts will disproportionately affect South Asia, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and China. These areas consist of low and middle income.
“In general, low- and middle-income people get more nutrients from plant-based sources, which tend to be less bioavailable than animal sources,” said Robert Beach, senior economist and researcher at RTI International.
This is especially concerning because these regions already suffer from low nutrient intakes. In addition, these regions are also the regions with the fastest projected population growth and therefore require the most nutrients.
The impact of shortages also varies by individual crop. For example, shortages of nutrients in wheat have particularly wide-ranging effects. "In many parts of the world, wheat makes up a large portion of the diet, so any changes in nutrient concentrations can have a major impact on the micronutrients that many people get," Beach added.
The study's modeling was limited to 2050, but Sulser added "extending the analysis into the second half of the century, when climate change is expected to have a stronger impact, will lead to further reductions in nutrient availability."
The researchers also outline that adequate quantification of potential health effects on individuals requires consideration of many factors beyond food consumption, such as access to clean water, sanitation and education. "Diet and human health are complex and unpredictable, and by reducing the availability of key nutrients, climate change will further complicate efforts to end global malnutrition,” Sur noted.