University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Climate threatens world food supply

In the midst of the countdown to COP 15, a new University of Copenhagen programme is to focus on climate change and food supply. Climate changes can not be isolated from the issue of our crops and agriculture. So says the director of the new initiative, who has authored this feature for the University Post

2009 is a historic year for humankind – our children and their children need to look back and say that this was the year when the problem of climate change was firmly addressed. A climate change deal is needed in Copenhagen at COP15.

Climate change is firmly on the agenda of the world’s nations. But so is food security, which shot back to prominence when food prices rose dramatically in 2008. The globe must feed 9 billion people by 2050. The two challenges – climate change and food security – have many points of intersection, with climate change likely to make households even more food insecure than they are now, and agricultural production contributing greenhouse gas emissions.

How can people in the developing world adapt to the inevitability of climate change? How can farmers in the developing world reduce greenhouse gas emissions and perhaps benefit from payments from proposed carbon markets?

These are the topics of a major new initiative launched at the University of Copenhagen: The Challenge Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Rising sea temperatures, deforestation

Crops and pastures cover 50 pct. of the earth’s land surface. Forests cover about 30 pct.

Crop and livestock production forms the basis of all societies; it is the largest employer, by sector, of people on the planet and underpins human food systems, crucial for ensuring peoples’ livelihood and health. It is important for global security, as hunger and poverty increase the risk of social and political unrest.

Crop and livestock production is also responsible for about 15 pct. of greenhouse gas emissions. These productive activities have an enormous influence on global water balances, as about 65 pct. of global water consumption is linked to food production and therefore the global carbon balance.

Increasing temperatures in the seas have a profound impact on the production of aquatic organisms which form an important food source for humans. Forestry is an important source of fibre and fuel and plays a significant role in regulating local and regional weather patterns, and the flux of carbon between the land surface and the atmosphere. Deforestation and forest degradation are responsible for about 20 pct. of greenhouse gas emissions.


Climate change poses a threat to the food security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people who depend on small-scale production from crops, livestock, fisheries and forests. The Earth system interacts with agricultural production in complex ways – both influencing output and being in turn influenced by production methods. Small-scale producers need to adapt to climate change and to the increased frequency of extreme weather events. The skills of these farmers also need to be harnessed so that they can mitigate the effects of climate change.

There are often complex trade-offs between environmental goals, livelihood goals and food security goals.

In addition to agricultural production, climate change will affect the ecology of beneficial and pest organisms altering their abundance and distribution. The health of animals and humans will also be threatened.

Based in Copenhagen

CCAFS ( is a 10-year research programme. It is to explore new ways of helping vulnerable rural communities. Researchers will generate new knowledge and tools that explain changes in climate, and new models to forecast what the changes might be. The explanations and forecasts will make us aware of the implications of adapting to or mitigating climate change. New knowledge and predictive models will help policy-makers and farmers understand the inevitable trade-offs. Modelling and scenarios will help them weigh up compromises and make decisions based on the best available data.

CCAFS is organised into six themes, (see box to the right) each to be headed by a global leader in the field, based at their host institutions in Europe, North America and Africa. The CCAFS secretariat will be based at the University of Copenhagen, in the Department of Agriculture and Ecology. The research is supported by the European Union, The World Bank, and the governments of Canada and Denmark.

Initially CCAFS will focus on three regions, the Indo-Gangetic Plains, and Western and Eastern Africa. The three regions were chosen to represent areas that are becoming both drier and wetter, and because they will generate results that can be applied in other regions worldwide. The focus on just three regions also means that CCAFS will bring all resources at its disposal to bear on what are very complex problems and will not be overstretched in the early years.

For further information on CCAFS you can contact the Director at or visit the website: