World food: Climate change winners – northern wilderness turns into farmland

Climate change is usually associated with problems for agriculture.

World food: Climate change winners – northern wilderness turns into farmland

Climate change is usually associated with problems for agriculture. It reports which form of cultivation will no longer be possible in the future due to a lack of water or rising temperatures. What is less noticed is that there are also large areas that are currently unsuitable for agriculture, but can be cultivated as the planet's temperature increases. A new study published in Current Biology reveals what will happen when a growing demand for food meets a general northward shift in agricultural frontiers.

In terms of potential arable land, there are also climate winners - Russia is one of them. In order to secure global production, grain growing areas must move 600 kilometers north. This is the only way to compensate for the decline elsewhere. "I would say it's inevitable," says Alexandra Gardner of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. However, this puts the natural biotopes in these zones at risk. The wilderness and the largely intact ecosystems would be acutely threatened. The process observed today in the Amazon basin would then take place in the northern hemisphere.

“Few areas of our planet remain relatively untouched by human impact,” says Professor Ilya Maclean from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at Penryn Campus in Exeter, Cornwall. "As our planet warms, we are reducing the productivity of existing farmland and opening up new areas for agriculture, particularly in the far north. Without protection, these valuable areas of wilderness - with their great biodiversity and cultural value - could be irrevocably lost."

In a simulation, the researchers ran through how different climate scenarios affect the growing areas of 1,700 crops. With a moderate increase in emissions and temperatures, 1.85 million square kilometers of wilderness would be transformed into suitable arable land. And that was until the middle of the century. With a high increase it would even be 2.75 million square kilometers. This corresponds to almost eight times the area of ​​the Federal Republic or 7 percent of the planet's total wilderness - excluding Antarctica.

The majority of the “new” usable areas can be found in Russia, Canada and Alaska. In particular, Russia's importance for feeding the world would continue to increase. Globally, arable land will then be even more unevenly distributed than it is today. In the heavily populated regions of the south, the area under cultivation is decreasing. It is increasing in sparsely inhabited zones such as Alaska and Siberia. At the same time, these areas are losing their status as wilderness largely untouched by humans. It is unlikely that this expansion of arable land in the north will be stopped for environmental reasons. In both scenarios, not only will new arable land be created, but 6 percent of the currently used land will no longer be suitable for cultivation. The winning states would transform regions that are hardly used today into the world's breadbasket and thus generate corresponding export revenues.