Coffee Production May Drop 50 Percent Thanks To Climate Change

Climbing temperatures and altered rainfall are affecting coffee yields, quality, and pests.

Coffee farmer Luka Kinyere inspects his plants in Kasese, western Uganda. CREDIT: AP/STEPHEN WANDERA

Coffee production worldwide could decline by as much as 50 percent in the next three decades thanks to climate change, according to a new report.

Published late last week, the Climate Institute report says a hotter climate and altered rainfall are colluding to cut the worldwide area suitable for coffee in half by 2050. That would be catastrophic for some 120 million people in more than 70 countries — mostly developing nations — that depend on the coffee trade.

It would also affect billions of consumers worldwide, who together drink about 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day, according to the report, which warns of rising prices. The ecology is also projected to suffer, as coffee production may be forced to move away from the equator, and further up mountains and forests.

Rising temperatures could make Mexican coffee unviable sooner than 2050, while Nicaragua will lose most of its coffee zone by 2050, according to the report.

Brazil, the world’s largest coffee grower, is set to experience “substantial losses,” the report notes. Already, Brazil’s coffee-growing areas are facing a growing number of heat waves, as cold extremes declined between 1960 and 2011.

Abrupt changes in weather patterns poses a significant problem for Arabica beans, which account for 75 percent of the world’s coffee production and require rainy and dry seasons to be well defined. Robusta, the other type of coffee bean, is more tolerant to warming, yet the report notes both types of crop seem incapable of weathering even the mild climate change scenarios evaluated.

In the Congo, the birthplace of Robusta coffee, the wild plant may become extinct by 2050. In fact, the report says that unless climate change is addressed, wild coffee could become extinct worldwide by 2080.

“It’s not just the heat, which is a big factor which is driving some of the regions where coffee is produced uphill,” John Connor, Climate Institute’s chief executive officer, told ABC. “We’re also seeing extra diseases increasing and being able to go up into those areas.”

Studies have long warned that a warmer world might mean a pricier morning cup of coffee, as consumption has been on the rise but coffee stockpiles have been dwindling.

U.S. consumption will be up 1.5 percent in the coming year and reach record highs, Bloomberg reported in June. Worldwide demand in various countries like China, Japan, and India also show upwards trends.

“We have a cloud hovering over our head. It’s dramatically serious. Climate change can have a significant adverse effect in the short term,” said Mario Cerutti, the Green Coffee Corporate Relations director at Lavazza, one of Italy’s most important coffee roasting companies. “It’s no longer about the future; it’s the present.”

Other industry officials have shared similar messages over the years. “What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road — if conditions continue as they are — is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain,” said Jim Hanna, director of environmental affairs at Starbucks, in 2011. “If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain, then that puts us at a greater risk.”

The report says that consumers can help ameliorate the problem by choosing brands that are carbon neutral, or help coffee farmers build their capacity to adapt to climate change. Moreover, the report notes people can demand action from companies and governments to ensure all products, business models, and economies are carbon neutral or even better, carbon negative.

“Our concern is primarily for the 25 million farmers out there whose entire livelihoods depend on this incredibly important global commodity,” Molly Harriss Olson, chief executive of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, which commissioned the report, according to ABC. “We’ve got to build a new economy that doesn’t threaten things in our lifestyle such as our coffee.”