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Climate change in my chocolate

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Palm Oil Contained In Everyday Products

By Thilo Pommerening

The topic of climate change is still very far away for most of us. Many think of hurricanes or distant island states threatened by rising sea levels. Most of us do not feel directly affected by global warming yet. However climate change is silently sneaking into our everyday lives.

Christmas without hazelnuts

Last year, during the Christmas season, there were no hazelnuts available to buy in many German supermarkets. Why was that? Turkey dominates world hazelnut market, accounting for over 70 per cent of total hazelnut production. Last year, one hail storm was enough to destroy half of the country’s yearly yield.

This year again, there was a poor harvest and the world market prices have increased significantly, for example so much so that the German chocolate manufacturer Ritter Sport is losing money with each sold “full-nut”-chocolate bar.

Climate change reaches our supermarkets

For some of our very popular foods such as coffee, bananas and oranges, I tried to find out what changes await us in the future, should we not succeed in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions dramatically over the coming years.

In the case of coffee, a study from the Humboldt University in Berlin indicates that half of the production areas currently suitable for coffee could be lost by mid-century due to climate change.

What does climate change have to do with my coffee?

Global warming increases evaporation processes in many regions of the world, and can lead to droughts during the months without precipitation. The current droughts in Brazil and California are just a foreshadowing what is to come, when the projected consequences of climate change might become reality.

Furthermore, heavy rains and storms can cause floods and encourage the spread of plant pests and diseases. All this has already lead to crop failure for many agricultural commodities and will occur more frequently in future.

Coffee, oranges, hazelnuts and bananas: Our collection of case studies

I had a look at the main producing countries of these agricultural commodities and the climate change impacts they are already suffering today and what crop failures have been reported so far. Then I consulted the projections from IPCC reports for these growing regions and showed on climate risk maps that these climate risks will significantly increase in the future.

Fortunately, it is unlikely that food security in Western importing countries will be endangered. But some food products might become more expensive in the future – or at times no longer be available or only at an inferior quality.

However, if we look beyond our own borders, things become more serious: the lack of revenue due to crop failures often means farmers livelihoods are at stake in these affected areas.

It is up to us to limit the extent of climate change impacts:

• The international community needs to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions dramatically to limit global warming to max. 1.5°C and to keep the impacts of climate change as low as possible.
• Affected producing countries need rapid, sustainable support in the development and implementation of adaptation strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change.
• Businesses should consider where their raw materials come from and whether they have been cultivated in a climate-friendly and sustainable way. Together with local producers, mitigation and adaptation strategies must be developed and implemented.
• We need to stop wasting food.

Learn more: read the ‘The calm before the storm’ report here.

Thilo Pommerening is working for WWF Germany as a climate expert. For over 10 years he has been consulting for businesses in the development and implementation of greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

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