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Climate crisis may destroy aquatic food systems — and livelihoods, economies

Much of Africa, South and Southeast Asia as well as the Indo-Pacific under high to very high risk under high-emissions, no-mitigation scenario 

Climate change can put much of Africa, South and Southeast Asia as well as the Indo-Pacific under ‘double jeopardy’ by destroying their marine and freshwater systems. This may pose risk to not only livelihoods, but economies of countries in the regions, if appropriate measures are not taken in time to mitigate the crisis, according to a recent study published in Nature Food.

Africa, South and Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific face ‘high’ to ‘very high’ climate risk for one or more food system outcomes by the middle of this century under a high-emissions scenario (RCP8.5). It also noted that countries that are among the highest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions do not necessarily face the highest risk from climate change.

India, along with other South Asian countries, is at a ‘high’ risk to its aquatic food systems, according to the study. India also has ‘high’ to ‘very high’ climate risk for three food system outcomes by the middle of this century under a high-emissions, no-mitigation scenario.

The study noted that countries with high climate vulnerability are projected to face compound climate risks across three or four of the food system outcomes, either in marine fisheries (primarily coastal Africa) or in freshwater and deltaic fisheries and aquaculture (South and Southeast Asia and Central Africa). These different risk profiles across countries and regions call for region-specific and context-specific risk reduction interventions.

In contrast, most countries in North America and Europe, as well as Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, face ‘low’ to ‘medium’ climate risk across all food system outcomes for this period.

Number of outcomes for which the risk score is ‘high’ or ‘very high’. Source: Nature

The study was published by Blue Food Assessment — a collaboration between Sweden-based Stockholm Resilience Centre, United States-based Stanford University and the non-profit EAT.

According to the study:

With a larger magnitude of warming on large continental land masses than in the ocean, freshwater fisheries in some countries are projected to face ‘very high’ hazards by the mid-twenty-first century, especially in water-stressed areas such as northern Africa and the Middle East.

In terms of nutrition, this may equate to reductions in aquatic food access and limit essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids in populations that are already at thresholds for deficiency.

According to Michelle Tigchelaar, co-lead author and researcher, the Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University:

“This is the first paper of its kind to assess the risks climate change poses to all aquatic foods, including freshwater and marine, aquaculture and wild-caught, which provide employment to more than 100 million people and sustenance for more than three billion people worldwide.”

The report called for urgent action to support the long-term sustainability, resilience, and equity of aquatic food systems. It suggested reducing actual climate hazards, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, for example, as well as the sensitivity of the production systems to these hazards.

An example of the latter is farming climate-tolerant species with reduced feed dependence and building barriers and restoring coastal ecosystems to protect against storms. 

It also suggested reducing dependence on climate-sensitive aquatic foods and sectors and vulnerability through investments that benefit human development irrespective of climate change.

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