Utah and the rest of the West are reeling through the effects of a warming climate firsthand, enduring cataclysmic and prolonged drought, catastrophic wildfires, shortened growing seasons and other threats to food security.
The International Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Annual Assessment underscores what millions of residents, water managers, farmers and power generators in Northern America already know — the situation is dire and the fixes aren’t easy.
Even at an increase of 1.5 degrees, the report points out the vulnerabilities in food supplies, in particular as rangeland grows arid, water scarcity becomes a reality, fisheries are threatened and demand for production grows with an increasing population.
Globally, the current food production system supports the livelihood of more than a billion people, but declines in crop yields and crop suitability are predicted to happen increasingly amid the warming temperatures and a more arid climate, the report said.
Already about 25% to 30% of food production ends up as waste across the world, even as an estimated 821 million people are undernourished.
Utah and other states in the West saw shortened growing seasons as the hot temperatures dragged on and water reductions were implemented in drastic fashion.
A wide array of climate change advocates say the drought and the report are a collective springboard to further invest in water saving strategies in multiple arenas such as agriculture, which commands 80% of the water use in Utah and the rest of the Colorado River Basin.
Sarah Bucci, director of strategic communications of the Water Hub at Climate Nexus, said water users need to stretch available water supplies, consider switching out crops and updating irrigation systems.
To that end, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox in his budget has recommended $20 million in agricultural optimization funds, which are grants farmers and ranchers can apply for to boost efficiencies in water delivery, including the installation of advanced technology or lining of canals.
The report notes that climate change disproportionately affects developing nations and minorities that lack access to dependable supplies of food, water and ways to cool their homes.
Some nations, too, have failed to implement any climate adaptive or mitigation strategies.
“This report is a wake-up call. Already, the climate crisis is devastating communities across the country. Delaying action any longer will be disastrous. The magnitude of the global climate crisis demands action at the same scale. This means transitioning to a clean energy economy and climate-proofing our nation’s critical infrastructure as swiftly as possible,” said Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power.