Previous studies found the global climate change could potentially reduce food supplies. The MIT researchers noted that many of the studies before did not look into the impact of the combination of climate change with air pollution particularly ozone pollution, which damages crops.
The new research was conducted by Colette Heald, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT; Amos Tai, a former CEE postdoc who is now at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; and Maria Val Martin at Colorado State University.
Impact of air pollution and climate change
The MIT researchers found that interactions of air pollution and climate change is significant. Their study indicates that policy makers need to consider the impact of air pollution and climate change to address food security.
The researchers looked evaluated the impact of the combination of air pollution and climate change in the global production of corn, rice, wheat and soy. The primary foods consumed by people worldwide. The study found that the impact significantly varies in different regions around the world.
According to them, some of the crops are strongly affected by air pollution or climate change. As an example, the researchers said corn is adversely affected by heat while wheat is very sensitive to ozone exposure.
Heald emphasized “nobody has looked” into the impact of air pollution and climate changes together although it is known that both higher temperatures and ozone pollution can damage plants and reduce the yields of crops.
The research predicted that tougher air-quality could lead to a sharp decline in air pollution in the United States, thus mitigating its impact on crops. According to Heald, the impact in other parts of the word depends on “domestic air-pollution policies. He said, “An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields.”
The study found that global warming would reduce crop productions by approximately 10% worldwide, but the effect of air pollution is more complex because some crops are more affected by it than other factors.
Heald explained that identifying the impact of air pollution is tricky because its damage is similar to other plant diseases such as producing flecks on leaves and discoloration.
The world needs 50% more food by 2050
The researchers emphasized that world is expected to need approximately 50% more food by 50% due to population growth and changing dietary trends. According to them, a potential reduction of crop production is worrisome.
The study suggested that the rate of malnourishment could increase from 18% to 27% by 2050 under a more pessimistic air-quality scenario. Under a more optimistic scenario, the undernourishment still increases.
Heald pointed out that the agricultural production is “very sensitive to ozone pollution,” and it is important to “think about the agricultural implications of air-quality regulations.” He added. “Ozone is something that we understand the causes of, and the steps that need to be taken to improve air quality.”