Heat waves, droughts and floods: the agricultural sector has always had to cope with extreme weather events. Yet the number of such weather conditions is increasing rapidly. In Germany. In Europe. All around the world. This naturally requires farmers in particular to adapt to change – and at the same time to reduce their own contributions to greenhouse gas emissions.
In June 2019 the world saw a new heat record. On average – according to the EU-run Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) – global temperatures exceeded the record to date set in June 2016 by 0.1 degrees. Europe was particularly hard hit. The average temperature here was two degrees higher than usual. Temperatures even climbed 10 degrees above normal in Germany, France, Northern Spain and Italy. A look into the recent past clearly shows it is getting warmer and extreme weather conditions are on the rise. From 2015 to 2018 we saw the four hottest years in history one after the other, and 2018 was the year with the highest average temperature since weather records began.
Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent
Most climate experts agree that climate change makes extreme weather events more likely. Stefan Rahmstorf, co-head of the Department of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and professor at the University of Potsdam, Germany, commented on the late-June heatwave: "While in Europe we are concerned about temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius this week, India recently set temperature records of over 50 degrees Celsius. Heat waves can hit a society hard, for example by causing additional deaths in vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children. In addition, a combination of hot and dry conditions may lead to local water shortages and crop failures. Only a rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels and thereby in CO2 emissions can prevent a further devastating increase in weather extremes associated with anthropogenic climate change."
Recommended upper limit: 1.5 degrees
At the end of 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference 195 countries agreed on the goal of limiting the rise in global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees compared with pre-industrial levels, "as this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change". Compared to the end of the 19th century, average temperatures have already risen by 1 degree today. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2018 Special Report, only 420 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide may be released into the atmosphere if keeping to the 1.5-degree target is to be achieved. Based on current global greenhouse gas emissions, this budget would be exhausted in nine years. There would be a little more time if global warming were limited to 2 degrees; in that case the world could continue to emit emissions unchanged into the atmosphere for another 26 years. But the half degree makes a huge difference for humans, animals and plants, as the IPCC points out in its Special Report of autumn 2018. Sustainability researcher Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explained it to the German TV and radio broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk: "I predict that 2018 will go down in history as the first year in which we receive the bill from the planet. These extreme events, from a flood and heat wave in Japan that killed over 200 people, to the extraordinary forest fires in California, to an incredible monsoon in India. We should recognise now that if this occurs at 1 degree warming, then it will be worse at 1.5 degrees – and we should definitely avoid 2 degrees."
Changing climatic conditions have a significant impact on the agricultural sector. They negatively affect the growing of cereals and reduce yields. This means that agriculture must adapt to climate change. On the one hand, by developing strategies to deal with it in the best possible way and, on the other hand, by playing an active role in the prevention of greenhouse gases. You can read how and where the agricultural sector is specifically challenged and what strategies BayWa is developing in part 2 of this article "Climate change: how the agricultural sector is preparing".
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