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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Starbucks Prepares for Disrupted Coffee Production Due to Climate Change


There's just something about coffee. From that first sacred sip in the morning while reading the paper to the mid-day pick-me-up, coffee is like fuel for many people. The price of that fuel may increase in the future as coffee supplies dwindle thanks to climate change. Last week Starbucks sustainability director, Jim Hanna told the Guardian that climate change is already affecting coffee farmers.

"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, which is the Arabica coffee bean," Hanna said. "Even in very well established coffee plantations and farms, we are hearing more and more stories of impacts."

Starbucks is taking a proactive approach to climate change risks. Hanna will be in Washington, D.C. on Friday to speak to members of Congress about climate change and coffee at an event sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

"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," Hanna said. "From a business perspective we really need to address this now, and to look five, 10, and 20 years down the road."

Coffee supplies are being reduced by higher temperatures, long droughts and intense rainfall, plus more resilient pests and plant diseases, according to the UCS, "all of which are associated with climate change." Coffee varieties adapted to certain climate zones so a temperature increase of just a half of a degree can have a big affect and cause lower crop yields. A good example is the almost 30 percent decrease in Indian coffee production From 2002 to 2011.

"Coffee likes a pretty narrow range of temperatures, and one of the hallmarks, really, of climate change will be increased extremes in temperatures," said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist from the UCS.

Chocolate and tea production also affected by climate change

Coffee is not the only food product affected by climate change. A recent International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (known by the Spanish acronym, CIAT) study predicted a one-degree Celsius temperature increase by 2030 and 2.3 degrees Celsius by 2050 in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, which would make it too hot to grow chocolate. Both countries supply more than half of the world's cocoa.

The CIAT report's lead author, Peter Laderach said that preparation is very important. "There is no doubt that these findings are severe," said Laderach. "But preparation is the name of the game. There is a lot that farmers, governments, scientists – and key players in the cocoa supply chains – can do to help protect and improve cocoa production. But these measures need to be implemented very quickly."

Tea is also being affected by climate change, according to a CIAT report released in May. Climate change will cause increases in average temperatures and rainfall which will cause many Kenyan farmers at lower elevations to abandon growing tea.

Photo: Flickr user, Dyobmit

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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