Cotton production globally will both affect and be affected by climate change. In its paper, Cotton and Climate Change: Impacts and Options to Mitigate and Adapt, the International Trade Centre (ITC) examines threats to cotton production posed by climate change and options to mitigate such threats. With the aim of stimulating discussions, the report presents key issues on the nexus of cotton, climate change and trade. Below I provide a brief summary of several of the key issues and impacts and how they differ from region to region. While the focus of this report is on cotton, many of the impacts and recommendations are relevant to other agriculture products.
Along the cotton value chain GHG emissions are broken down as follows: 30-60% from consumer use, 20-30% from manufacturing and 5-10% from production. Given the higher level of threat to cotton production due to altered weather patterns, the ITC paper focuses on this segment of the value chain.
Cotton is adapted to semi-arid and arid environments and can be rainfed or irrigated. While it has some resilience to high temperatures and drought, the crop is sensitive to water availability. The authors provide snapshots of potential impacts in the top cotton production regions.
The negative impacts of climate change on cotton production are likely to be most acutely felt by producers in Xinjian (China), Pakistan, Australia and the western United States. Some of the impacts that these regions will feel include: lower water availability coupled with higher use of irrigation – leading to more pressure on water sources, lower yields, losses due to more frequent and pronounced climate variability (e.g. longer droughts or flooding), soil exhaustion and salinization due to increased mono-cropping and irrigation, and decreased water sourced due to diminishing glaciers (e.g. Pakistan). Arid regions (e.g. Yellow River region of China, India, southeastern U.S. and Turkey) may find benefits from climatic variations (e.g. increased rainfall). Results in Brazil and West and Central Africa are unclear. You can find a detailed discussion on each region’s predicted impacts in the paper.
The authors propose the following opportunities to reduce GHG emissions along the cotton value chain.
- Introduce carbon pricing policies to stimulate investments in energy conservation and renewable energy technologies.
- Raise consumer awareness on the benefits of more energy efficient ways to launder cotton products.
- Support and advise processing facilities on adoption of more energy efficient technologies.
- Support and advise farmers on more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer and encourage low tillage, improve soil, water and land management as well as low input farming practices.
Market incentives to reduce GHG emissions include:
- Product carbon footprint standards: consumers are increasingly interested in purchasing products that have smaller environmental footprints.
- Carbon reduction investment and market opportunities: producers and processors in developing countries can take advantage of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or other carbon trading mechanisms (e.g. Chicago Climate Exchange).
The paper concludes by suggesting the following options to adapt to climate change:
- Stop unnecessary nutrient loss from farming systems, preventing soil erosion and halting the burning of crop residues.
- Improve soil fertility management through inclusion of crop covers, plant diversity and limiting the time land lays bare.
- Time sowing to offset moisture stress during the warm period to maximize the length of growing season and prevent pest outbreaks.
- Breed and plant varieties that are more resistant to heat stress, droughts, weeds, pests and diseases.
- Optimize the use of sustainable, natural fertilizing sources in cotton production.
- Optimize the efficiency of additional fertilizer used.
- Optimize the water-use efficiency in the production of irrigated cotton.
- Optimize the use of industrial preparations such as pesticides, herbicides and defoliants.
Climate change will certainly impact cotton production and processing. The industry should take steps to minimize its contributions and prepare for the adaptation to climate change.
Questions to consider
What policy or market incentives can the industry promote? How is it best to do this?
With the focus shifting to adaptation, how can we best help farmers?