Climate Change Could Kill Off Coffee

by | Nov 9, 2012

Wild Arabica coffee could be extinct in 70 years due to rising temperatures as a result of climate change, according to research by Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and scientists in Ethiopia.

The situation poses a threat to all coffee – one of the world’s basic commodities, according to The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee (Coffea arabica): Predicting Future Trends and Identifying Priorities. Even though growers would be able to cultivate coffee in plantations with the right conditions, the loss of the wild plant, which has  a far greater genetic diversity than farmed coffee, could make it harder for plantations to operate long term and fight off disease and insects, the report says.

The researchers used field study and “museum” data – including herbarium specimens – to run bioclimatic models for wild Arabica coffee, to deduce the recorded and predicted geographical distribution for the species. The distribution was then modeled through time until 2080, based on the Hadley Centre Coupled Model, version 3, a leading model used in climate change research, and the only one available that covered the desired time intervals.

Three different emission scenarios over three time intervals – 2020, 2050, 2080 – were used. The models showed a profoundly negative influence on the number and extent of wild Arabica populations.

Two main types of analysis were performed: a locality analysis and an area analysis. In the locality analysis the most favorable outcome is a roughly 65 percent reduction in the number of pre-existing bioclimatically suitable localities, and at the worst, an almost total, 99.7 percent, reduction, by 2080. In the area analysis the most favorable outcome is a 38 percent reduction, and the least favorable a roughly 90 percent reduction, by 2080.

“The scale of the predictions is certainly cause for concern, but should be seen more as a baseline, from which we can more fully assess what actions are required,” says Aaron Davis, head of coffee research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

In January, Starbucks released details of its attempts to improve the yield of coffee beans in regions that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The coffee company’s best practice was just one of around 100 examples of strategies listed, at that time, in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Adaptation Private Sector Initiative.

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