Our climate is changing, and many of us are aware of its results on our weather and water levels–but now we know that it is going to affect our nutrient availability of protein, zinc, and iron by 2050.
A study published in the July 2019 edition of the Lancet Planetary Health journal focused on the staggering impact that climate change is going to have on our crops. The reason? Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will decrease the amount of nutrients found in our foods around the globe.
Though we can see photosynthesis and plant growth boosted by higher levels of carbon dioxide, it results in a reduction of key micronutrients present in our crops.
The group of international researchers used established global agriculture models and data sets for carbon dioxide on nutrients and projected results to the year 2050. They found that all vegetables, wheat, corn, rice, barley, soybeans, and potatoes will all suffer an average of a 3% nutrient loss by 2050 because the elevated carbon dioxide concentration.
Three percent might not sound like a lot, but it will affect nutrition on a daily basis for everyone. Protein is estimated to decrease by 19.5% (which is a 3.11 g per person per day decrease), iron is estimated to decrease by 14.4% (which is a 0.64 mg per person per day decrease), and zinc is estimated to decrease by 14.6% (which is a 0.37 mg per person per day decrease).
Protein, zinc, and iron availability in just our wheat alone will be reduced by 12% globally by 2050.
Normally, future improvements in crop yields, technology, and incomes would raise the availability of protein, zinc, and iron in a nutrient projection study, but when the carbon nutrient penalty is applied, it results in 2 models of projected results. When both models were studied and averaged independently, the reductions in nutrients were across the board.
Areas that are currently efficient in agricultural production will see the largest impact because of the correlated increase in carbon dioxide in those areas from modern agricultural production itself. However, the researchers expect it to affect developed countries just as much as lower income and middle-income countries. They expect countries already experiencing nutrient deficiency to be especially vulnerable to the changes in nutrient compositions.
The Middle East, South Asia, North Africa, some regions of South Africa, and the former Soviet Union are expected to be severely affected because of their heavy wheat dependence. South Asia’s iron consumption is already very low, and India also has extremely low iron consumption and the highest levels of anemia worldwide.
Among the most significant losses are zinc and iron in North America, North Africa, and the Middle East, and the loss of protein in European crops.
This reduction will not be offset by the expected technological and agricultural improvements that we would normally see in projections. The researchers are not hopeful that even the carbon dioxide fertilization affect (which is an increased rate of photosynthesis due to the increased level of carbon dioxide) will be able to counteract the effects of climate change in our food supply.
This study was the first of its kind and has pointed to the importance of further studies and how to address these concerns.
- Beach, Robert H, et al. “Combining the Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Protein, Iron, and Zinc Availability and Projected Climate Change on Global Diets: a Modelling Study.” The Lancet Planetary Health, vol. 3, no. 7, July 2019, pp. 307–317., doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30094-4.