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Uh oh, climate change is threatening the world's coffee supplies

This time, it's personal.

FIONA MACDONALD
23 SEP 2016
 

Climate change is already bleaching our coral reefs, messing with our food, and melting our planet's poles - but a new report has shown that rising temperatures are now also threatening our coffee supplies in pretty much every country. And people are pissed.

The report summarised studies from around the world looking into the effect that climate change will have on coffee production – and it's not looking good.

 

"We're fearful that by 2050, we might see as much as a 50 percent decline in productivity and production of coffee around the world, which is not so good," Molly Harriss Olson, the chief executive of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, which commissioned the report, told Josephine Asher from ABC News.

On top of a 50 percent reduction in output, by 2080, wild coffee – an important genetic resource for coffee farmers – could become extinct, the report found.

The new report, "A Brewing Storm", was carried out by the Climate Institute – an Australian not-for-profit. It didn't contain any new findings, but it's one of the first studies to bring together research not only into future threats to coffee prediction, but also the damage that's already been done.

For example, in the 'Bean Belt' – which includes countries like Colombia, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Vietnam – temperatures have already gone up by as much as 1.3 degrees Celsius. And in Tanzania, where 2.4 million people work in the coffee industry, yields have already fallen by about 50 percent since the 1960s.

One of the biggest problems is that one of the two main coffee bean varieties, Arabica (Coffea Arabica), which makes up 70 percent of global supply, is incredibly heat sensitive. At temperatures above around 23 degrees Celsius, the plant grows to fast and fruits too early, the report explains, damaging bean quality.

But temperature isn't the only issue. 

 

"It's not just the heat, which is a big factor which is driving some of the regions where coffee is produced uphill," John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, told ABC. "We're also seeing extra diseases increasing and being able to go up into those areas."

These diseases include coffee rust and pests such as the coffee berry borer – which is a beetle that already causes the coffee industry to lose hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

For consumers of the 2.25 billion cups of coffee drunk each day, the main impact of all this will be that the price of coffee will continue to increase as it becomes harder to grow. But for the workers in the Bean Belt countries, the outcome could be a lot more severe as they lose their livelihoods and income.

"There is no coffee company on the face of the earth that’s big enough to tackle the challenge of climate change on its own," Doug Welsh, vice president of the World Coffee Research Group, told The New York Times. 

The group has been founded by international coffee companies in an attempt to use science to protect their crops, and is currently funding a range of projects to save coffee, including the creation of a gene bank in order to preserve the genetic diversity of Arabica coffee.

They're also looking to identify particular coffee plants that are pest resistant, in the hopes of breeding new varieties that taste good to us but are unpalatable for beetles.

All of that's just a stop-gap though, if we continue to burn fossil fuels and increase the temperature of the planet.

But, honestly, if the thought of facing each morning without a cup of coffee isn't enough to make the world seriously commit to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, I don't know what will be.

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