In simple terms, climate change refers to the rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system and is caused by an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Since 1850, the average global temperature has already risen by nearly 1°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted that global temperatures may see a further temperature rise between 2.6°C to 4.8°C by 2100.
In 2016, a report by the Climate Institute in Australia collated the existing scientific literature on the impact of climate change on the world’s coffee supply. Needless to say, the findings were bleak. The research showed that coffee crops along the Bean Belt, the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn where almost all coffee plants are grown, were already threatened by the effects of climate change.
Since coffee varieties are adapted to microclimates, where a specific combination of temperature and precipitation allows beans to thrive while retaining their flavour profile, increases in temperature can have significant impacts. Long term increases in the number of extreme weather events has contributed to substantial declines in coffee crop yields. For example, Tanzania has seen a 50% reduction in yield since the 1960s and in India, coffee production has decreased by approximately 30% between 2002 and 2011 alone. Furthermore, climate change has led to an expansion of the habitat and range of the coffee berry borer, a pest of coffee plants, which places even more stress on coffee crops.
As climate change worsens, it is expected to reduce the area suitable for coffee production by as much as 50% and threaten the livelihoods of more than 120 million of the world’s poorest people who depend on the coffee economy. In Ethiopia alone, 25% of the population relies on coffee farming for their livelihood. The impact of climate change on coffee growers will vary by region. Researchers expect Nicaragua to lose most of its coffee growing areas by 2050 while Tanzania may reach critically low levels by 2060.
Of the two main types of cultivated coffee, Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora), Robusta may be better suited to cope with climate change as it is a hardier species. However, Arabica, which accounts for approximately 70% of global coffee production, is tremendously climate sensitive. Researchers expect that wild Arabica coffee may go extinct by 2080. While commercial coffee is obtained from domesticated crops, the loss of wild Arabica varieties will result in a loss of genetic diversity, leaving cultivated crops more susceptible to diseases and pests and ultimately leading to declines in flavour and aroma quality as well as increases in prices. Higher demand for coffee could potentially lead to the expansion of coffee farms into biodiversity hotspots and the risk of deforestation in these areas is high.
The diminishing supply and quality of coffee is just one example of the numerous environmental impacts expected due to climate change. Climate change is a complex issue and there is no single solution to mitigating its impacts. Nevertheless, there are a number of actions we can take as individuals to limit our contribution to climate change. Follow this link to learn more.