An estimated 500,000 people in the world could starve to death by 2050 because of low crop production as a result of climate change, according to a new study conducted by the University of Oxford.

In a study featured in the journal The Lancet, researchers at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food examined how various changes in the Earth's climate could impact the health and diet of people.

Their research is considered to be the first of its kind to present strong evidence that climate change could have far-reaching consequences on the ability of countries to produce enough food by 2050.

Lead investigator Dr. Marco Springmann pointed out that, while a number of studies have been made on food security over the years, only a few them were able to focus on the effects of agricultural production on human health.

He said that changes in the availability and consumption of food could impact the susceptibility of people to dietary and weight-related issues, including lower intake of vegetable and fruits, higher consumption of red meat products and even higher body weight.

All of these aspects contribute to a higher incidence of illnesses such as cancer, stroke and heart disease, as well as death from such diseases.

Springmann added that even minor changes in food availability for every person could produce undesirable impacts on the composition and energy content of diets. This could ultimately result in significant changes on people's health.

Reduction of Food Availability

According to the researchers' findings, current climate change trends could drastically reduce food availability around the world by as much as one-third in the next three decades, resulting in the deaths of 529,000 people.

Two regions that will likely be hit the hardest by the projected drop in food production are the Western Pacific with 264,000 deaths and Southeast Asia with 164,000 deaths.

In China alone, an estimated 248,000 people could die because of poor food availability, while India could lose 136,000 people.

The European countries of Greece and Italy could suffer the largest loss of life as a result of food scarcity on a per-capita basis with 124 deaths per million people and 89 deaths per million people, respectively.

The researchers made use of a model for agricultural economy that was based on various factors, such as trajectories of carbon emissions, socioeconomic pathways and potential responses to climate change in their assessment of production, trade and consumption of food around the world for 2050.

They determined how many people could likely die as a result of changes in their diet and body weight using a middle-of-the-road development scenario as well as four scenarios for climate change. They then compared their findings to projections if climate change did not exist in the world.

The study's findings show that, if global emissions were to be eliminated, the availability and consumption of food around the world would increase enough to prevent 1.9 million people from dying.

Photo: Dag Terje Filip Endresen | Flickr 

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