Coffee is a key global crop and the second most valuable commodity exported by developing countries, worth around US$19 billion in 2015. Worldwide, around 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed each day. Nearly half of all Australians drink coffee regularly. The coffee market is growing, but faces big challenges coming up fast:
There is strong evidence that rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns are already affecting coffee yields, quality, pests, and diseases—badly affecting economic security in some coffee regions.
+ Without strong action to reduce emissions, climate change is projected to cut the global area suitable for coffee production by as much as 50 per cent by 2050. By 2080, wild coffee, an important genetic resource for farmers, could become extinct.
+ Leading global coffee companies, such as Starbucks and Lavazza, publicly acknowledge the severe risks posed by climate change to the world’s coffee supply. Consumers are likely to face supply shortages, impacts on flavour and aroma, and rising prices.
+ In the next few decades, coffee production will undergo dramatic shifts—broadly, away from the equator and further up mountains. Production will probably come into conflict with other land uses, including forests.
+ Rising CO2 levels may boost the growth and vigour of the coffee plant, but there is no guarantee this ‘fertilisation effect’ will offset the risks imposed by a more hostile climate.
Most of the world’s 25 million coffee farmers are smallholders. Alone, they have little capacity to adapt to a hotter world in which climate and market volatility conspire against them.
+ Over 120 million people in more than 70 countries rely on the coffee value chain for their livelihoods.
+ Many countries where coffee exports form a main plank of the economy are also amongst the most vulnerable to climate risk. Honduras, Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Guatemala, for instance, rank in the top-10 for climate-related damages since the 1990s.
+ Climate change is likely to significantly increase the burden on the health and wellbeing—physical and mental—of coffee producers, labourers, and communities, with consequences for productivity.
+ Crop adaptation strategies include developing more resilient production systems, diversifying crops, and shifting plantations upslope. The global trend, however, is towards intensification as producers seek to lift yields at the expense of more complex and carbon-rich landscapes. Ultimately, climate change is likely to push many producers out of coffee altogether.
For coffee drinkers keen to help, the first step is to learn about the challenges faced by coffee producers and communities, and about what organisations such as Fairtrade and others are doing to make a difference. Next, most consumers can now choose brands that are carbon neutral, guarantee a fair return to smallholder farmers and their communities, and help them build their capacity to adapt to climate change. Finally, people can demand action from all companies and their governments to ensure all products, businesses, and economies are carbon neutral or better.
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