World Trade, Food, Environment

Press Release by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)


Growing world trade makes food production cheaper – at the expense of the environment

Further opening of the markets for agricultural products leads to lower production costs for food. This will happen at the expense of the environment though, if for example forests are turned into cropland. The conflict of interests between food production and climate protection is now shown by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in calculations for the years 2005 to 2045. For the first time, the effects of an advancing liberalization of agricultural trade were comprehensively analyzed through computer simulations, focusing both on the economic impacts and on those on land use and nature. This is one of the important issues   to be discussed at the UN summit in Durban next week.


“Trade with grains and sugar, with soy and meat has multiplied more than tenfold since 1950,” says Christoph Schmitz, lead author of the study that has recently been published in the scientific journal Global Environmental Change. His team has analysed three different scenarios of future world trade for different regions of the earth, using a coupled economic and biophysical model tool. “The effects of an expansion of global agricultural trade for the world´s climate could be drastic – at least if no additional new rules are introduced,” says Schmitz. The main reason for this: with more liberalised world trade, production areas move towards tropical regions, which leads to an expansion of agricultural land at the expense of nature there.

Cropland instead of rainforest in the Amazon region: cheap production, expensive emissions

If world trade was freed from all trade barriers by 2045, global agricultural production could become 11 trillion US dollars cheaper altogether than with barriers in a time span of four decades – a cost reduction of roughly a tenth. At the same time, emissions of agricultural greenhouse gases would increase by around 15 percent by 2045 as compared to a scenario without an expansion of trade. A moderate scenario of opening markets still amounts to 6.5 trillion US dollars in cost reductions and almost ten percent more emissions harmful to the climate. Environmental costs are therefore substantial.

As a result of the calculations, Latin America would gain in exports of grains and oilseeds in the case of liberalization – but more than elsewhere by cutting down rainforests and a corresponding extension of cultivated areas, for example in the Amazon region. North America and Europe would export less. China could lead exports of meat. Regarding animal husbandry, calculations show a relatively strong absolute increase of greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to today, but only little alteration between the different trade scenarios.

Forest protection is one of the major topics in Durban – it could be linked to trade issues

“According to our analysis, the reduction of trade barriers cannot simply be condemned,” explains Hermann Lotze-Campen with regard to the current fierce public debate on world trade and short-term fluctuations of agricultural prices. He heads the research project on this matter. “Liberalization can be of sustainable advantage to global food supplies, if rules to contain agricultural impacts on the environment are created on an international level.”

The scientists conclude from their study that rules for world trade and climate protection cannot be treated separately in international negotiations any longer. “This is one thing to be discussed in Durban”, Lotze-Campen says. “Forest protection is  decisive to reach ambitious emission targets and is high on the agenda there.” According to the study, several things could be considered. In the future, agreements on trade liberalization could be accompanied by measures to protect forests. Secondly, the cost reduction through cheaper food production would be sufficient to pay for measures of climate protection like reforestation or mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. On the other hand, compensation payments for comprehensive forest protection would be fundable from saved costs for additional emission certificates.

Investing in agricultural innovation

Thirdly, a sustainable increase of agricultural production can only be feasible if considerably more money were to be invested in the development of better cultivation methods soon, the scientists say. “Investments in yield increase have stagnated in the last decades,” emphasizes Lotze-Campen. Especially in developing countries a lot can still be accomplished. “If more can be produced on the same piece of land, this helps both ends: global food security as well as climate protection.”

Article: Schmitz, C., Biewald, A., Lotze-Campen, H., Popp, A., Dietrich, J.P., Bodirsky, B., Krause, M., Weindl, I. (2011): Trading more Food – Implications for Land Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and the Food System. Global Environmental Change, 
[doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.09.013] (in press)

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2 Responses

  1. Poo says:

    Below is a statement from New York by a Minister of the Canadian Government. Canada does not attend the “Durbans.” How many could there be?
    Potsdam “models” are not mentioned in this press release but I can attest, by local media coverage (aside from the CBC) that “models” have long gone out of vogue here as they do not input all variables and are rarely, if ever, accurate.
    Have a Happy Thanksgiving! Ours is on the 2nd Monday in October due, no doubt, to the earlier crop cycle. Or is that the later crop cycle. Oh well, I’m sure the crops are in there somewhere.

    The Canadian Press

    Date: Friday Sep. 23, 2011 7:19 AM ET

    NEW YORK — Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney has blasted the United Nations for an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Durban anti-racism conference.

    Speaking to a UN gathering in New York, Kenney says the Durban conference, which Canada first boycotted in 2009, is nothing but another “hatefest.”

    He says the original conference in 2001 was little more than a sustained blast of anti-Semitism, and the latest event is no better.

    The Durban conferences have become synonymous for sustained and bitter attacks against Israel.

    The 2001 event adopted a document that accused Israel of engaging in Palestinian genocide and ethnic cleansing.

    Two years ago, Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — whose speech today to the UN General Assembly was widely boycotted by member nations — called the Holocaust a Jewish “pretext” and accused Israel of distorting “the honour of mankind.”

    “This was just the highest profile outrage at a conference that was, like its predecessor in 2001, blighted by crude anti-Semitism and bully tactics by some of the most dangerous and lawless nations in the world,” Kenney said in prepared remarks.

    “The hallmark of the Durban process is an almost pathological refusal to see things are they are. In the world of the Durban process, the blame is always external; the fault always lies with someone else. Preferably someone with deep pockets.”

    The U.S., which walked out of the 2001 event and boycotted the 2009 follow-up, is shunning this one too. So are Australia and Israel, along with six European countries — Austria, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

    “Israel will always be on the front lines of the fight against racism,” Karean Peretz, its UN mission spokeswoman, said Thursday.

    “However, we refuse to participate in the commemoration of a conference that sought to legitimize hatred, intolerance, and prejudice against the state of Israel, under the banner of combating racism.”

    The UN has maintained that its 2001 event was unfairly tarred as anti-Semitic, and that it was on the sidelines, among the nongovernmental organizations, “when virulently anti-Semitic materials were circulated.”

    The event Kenney was speaking at also featured John Bolton, the Bush administration’s UN ambassador; Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel; and Mike Huckabee, the former Republican presidential candidate.

    With files from The Associated Press

    Read more:

  2. Poo says:

    Oops. There is a mention of Durban in my morning paper.
    Our news seems to be more about the failure of the ill-named “Super Committee” and the European Economy both of which will impact negatively on us.
    American bankers seemed pissed that the Governor of the Bank of Canada has been appointed Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, the international body charged with coordinating and supervising the reform of global banking regulations. Canada’s financial picture is not great but by comparison we tend to look good. For those objecting to bank regulation it is worth noting that Canada has not had a national bank failure since 1923. We lost none during the Great Depression to 9,000 in the U.S. None failed in 2008 either. One hopes the U.S. banks will accept minor regulations to protect customers and tax payers from future bailouts.
    Durban and climate commentary below.

    Terence Corcoran: Cooler science
    Comments Email Twitter inShare.2.Terence Corcoran Nov 21, 2011 – 7:40 PM ET

    IPCC weather report a major setback for warmists looking for the smoking cigarette butts of global warming

    Only a week to go before the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) begins in Durban, South Africa, where world governments will again attempt to draft a global plan to control carbon emissions so as to stave off catastrophic man-made global warming. At the moment, however, the world’s governments seem more intent on warding off catastrophic government-made fiscal disasters. If for no other reason, Durban is heading for the dustbin of UN climate meetings.

    But distraction with economic and fiscal crises isn’t the only reason Durban seems doomed. Another issue would be what looks like a growing realism in climate science, including within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the science arm of the UN climate machinery. In a summary report last Friday, the ­IPCC rang climate alarm bells on extreme weather events that weren’t all that alarming.
    The report summarized the “key findings” of a Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters, to be released next February. For warmists looking for the smoking cigarette butts of climate change, the report was a major setback. Despite a few headlines that mostly exaggerated its findings, the report actually concluded there was little or no evidence of man-made global warming to date as measured in extreme-weather events. As for the future, nothing much can be expected for another 20 or 30 years. The big impacts were projected way off at the end of the 21st century.

    The report was so lame as a climate-warning device that Media Matters, the U.S. watchdog group, observed Monday that it was “almost totally ignored” by the TV networks. Not a word on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC or CBS. Media Matters’ concern was that the key headline message — warning of more extreme heat waves, floods, droughts and storms — had failed to reach the people.

    That the report’s message was missed is beyond dispute, but the message missed is not the one Media Matters wanted to hear. Take, for example, the report’s treatment of hurricanes. David Suzuki and other green activists have often claimed that hurricanes like Katrina are the product of man-made global warming and human consumption of carbon-emitting fossil fuels produced by evil oil companies. But the new IPCC report said it did not have evidence that there has been an increase in hurricane activity or intensity. In the language of the IPCC, “There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e. 40 years or more) increase in tropical cyclone activity (i.e. intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.”

    Headlines such as “Katrina not likely caused by global warming” or “Hurricanes not on rise” could have been written off this report. As for major rain/precipitation events, the report said there have been “statistically significant trends” in some regions, although those trends have shown decreases in events as well as increases. Droughts are also hard to identify. There is “medium confidence” that “some regions” have experienced more intense and longer droughts, but in “some regions” droughts have become “less frequent, less intense or shorter.”

    Floods around the world are often cited in media as evidence of global warming. But the IPCC report downplays its support for this idea.

    “There is limited to medium evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods at regional scales because the available instrumental records of floods at gauge stations are limited in space and time, and because of confounding effects of changes in land use and engineering.”

    No wonder the TV networks ignored the story: Most of their extreme-weather coverage over the last few years blaming global warming appears to have been wrong.

    Watering the message down even further was the IPCC’s upfront definition of what it means by climate change: “Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.” In this definition, man-made climate change brought on by carbon emissions amounts to only one part of the system. The role of natural forces is likely larger than carbon emissions.

    If the recent past evidence of man-made global warming is thin, what about the future? Here again, the IPCC report offers little headline fodder.

    “Projected changes in climate extremes under different emissions scenarios generally do not strongly diverge in the coming two to three decades, but these signals are relatively small compared to natural climate variability over this time frame. Even the sign of projected changes in some climate extremes over this time frame is uncertain. For projected changes by the end of the 21st century, either model uncertainty or uncertainties associated with emissions scenarios used becomes dominant, depending on the extreme.”

    Not exactly a green light for governments and politicians in Durban to charge ahead with radical carbon-reduction schemes and targets. If carbon emissions are causing global warming, extreme events won’t be showing up for another 20 or 30 years. Beyond that, the models are tricky. Still, the IPCC produced a number of projections that some extreme events would increase. It is “virtually certain” that warm daily temperature extremes will occur in the 21st century. But it is “likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones [hurricanes] will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged.”

    For some, the new report is a welcome change. Roger Pielke Jr., a long-time critic of IPCC climate models, said: “The IPCC should be congratulated for delivering a message that cannot have been comfortable to deliver. The IPCC has accurately reflected the scientific literature on the state of attribution with respect to extreme events — it is not there yet, not even close, for events such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, bushfires and on other topics there remain enormous uncertainties. That is just the way that it is, so that is indeed what the IPCC should have reported.”

    The real “extreme event,” however, may be the IPCC report itself, a pre-Durban warning of pending climate catastrophes that is short on catastrophes. It’s an IPCC science document that doesn’t give the UN policymaking arm meeting in Durban enough hot science to justify action.

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