Coffee and Climate Change: A Serious Look

Author: rob   Date Posted:20 November 2012 

Coffee is not just a beverage, it’s a commodity. In fact, only oil surpasses coffee as the most consumed commodity in the world.

The difference between oil and coffee is that while oil is a non-renewable resource, coffee is. Or is it? According to a recent study, our oil consumption, which is the primary reason for greenhouse emissions, is threatening the survival of coffee.
The study, recently summarized in a Global Coffee Review blog, carried the title; Study suggests wild Arabica coffee could be extinct in 70 years. As chilling as the title is, the conclusions drawn by the study are even more chilling. Using a sophisticated modelling technique, researchers uncovered likely outcomes based on the impact of climate change over 3 thirty year time intervals (2020, 2050, and 2080). According to the study abstract, the most favourable outcome by 2080 was a 65 percent reduction in “pre-existing bio climatically suitable localities” and at worst, a 100 percent reduction.
Wild Arabica coffee was chosen for the study because of its “genetic diversity” or ability to thrive in a variety of climates and conditions. Plantation grown Arabica beans, on the other hand, are from “very limited genetic stock” and are even less able to cope with climate change. Because of this, protection of wild Arabica is even more important to coffee’s future than maintenance of existing commercial coffee plantations.
The implications go far beyond the possibility that our favourite beverage may not be available in the future. As the world’s second largest selling commodity, coffee is also responsible for the livelihoods of millions of people throughout the world – most of them in Third World countries. Study authors noted in their abstract that based on “known occurrences and ecological tolerances of Arabica, bioclimatic unsuitability would place populations in peril, leading to severe stress and a high risk of extinction.” In other words, the extinction of Arabica coffee can lead to the extinction of entire cultures. In at least one coffee growing region, South Sudan, this could occur as early as 2020, according to Dr. Aaron Davis, head of Coffee Research at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, which partially funded the study.
Dr. Davis also stressed that the purpose of the study was not to make “scaremonger predictions”, but to provide a platform from which researchers can “assess what actions are required.” As unsettling as the study is, it may be the first step towards saving this vitally important plant species. It is in everyone’s interest to save wild Arabica coffee from extinction and there’s a good chance this study will motivate coffee producers to use their resources to protect wild Arabica from extinction.
One way we coffee lovers can do our part is by drinking ¡Tierra!  Rainforest Alliance coffee. Lavazza started the ¡Tierra! project in 2002 based on the conviction that the environmental, social and cultural welfare of coffee growing communities was an important part of the company’s broader social responsibility. Purchasing ¡Tierra! Rainforest Alliance certified coffee may seem like a small individual contribution, but don’t forget that collectively, we coffee lovers are a powerful force. When we drink “coffee with a conscience”, coffee growers will listen.

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