Science

Coffee under threat of extinction from Climate Change

Coffee – the world’s favourite hot beverage, as well as the world’s second most traded commodity after oil, was this week making headlines around the world as a new report published by researchers at Kew Gardens suggested that it is under threat of extinction from climate change. The report stated that in a worst case scenario, given a temperature rise of 4 degrees centigrade by the end of the century, that 100% of coffee grown in Africa and the Middle East would become extinct. This would be disastrous for the coffee trade in Europe, and would cause an economic depression in Ethiopia from which the country may never recover, given its dependence on exporting coffee.
The findings of the report were calculated by applying current models of potential climate change scenarios to what is already known about coffee’s ability to grow in certain temperatures. The report states; “At temperatures above 23°C, the growth and ripening [of coffee] is accelerated, leading to a reduced quality beverage. Continuous exposure to temperatures as high as 30°C leads to stress, which will manifest as depressed growth and abnormalities, such as the yellowing of leaves and growth of tumours on the stem.”
The report concludes that the African/Middle Eastern coffee bean could at least be severely damaged, or even die out altogether if climate change projections from the Inter-Governmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) prove to be accurate.
The report, “The Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Arabica Coffee”, was submitted for peer review by its contributors in May of this year, and was published in the online journal “Plos One” on November 7th. Given that it is peer reviewed, it is undoubtedly a sound scientific projection, worth paying attention to. However, the report itself does admit flaws in its data gathering, as all data in the report is theoretical. The researchers called for further investigation, stating “On-the-ground monitoring of stress over suitable time intervals will be necessary to fully ground-truth the validity and scaling of our modelling.”
Over 70 newspapers and countless online publications went with the headline “Coffee extinct by 2080”. While this headline was somewhat alarmist, as the international press had played a game of Chinese whispers with the original data, production of Coffee in Africa and the Middle East is under serious threat from climate change, given our current projections of the rise in global temperatures. The report is available online at www.plosone.org.

Chris McSweeney ¦ @ChrissMcSweeney ¦ chrismcsweeney21@gmail.com

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