Half of all cotton growing regions face severe climate risks by 2040 if carbon emissions continue to soar

Half of all cotton growing regions face severe climate risks by 2040 if carbon emissions continue to soar

The first-ever global analysis of climate risks to global cotton production reveals that runaway climate change could expose half of all global cotton growing regions to high risks from temperature increases, changes to rainfall patterns and extreme weather events by 2040.

Titled “Adapting to climate change – physical risk assessment for global cotton production”, the analysis was commissioned by the Cotton 2040 initiative, which is facilitated by international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation. The analysis was conducted by Cotton 2040 partner and climate-risk specialists Acclimatise, part of Willis Tower Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub.

Under a worst-case climate scenario, the analysis highlights that all global cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard by 2040. While this increase ranges from very low to very high risk, half of the world’s cotton growing regions will face drastic changes with high or very high-risk exposure to at least one climate hazard. Other key findings include:

  • All six highest cotton-producing countries – India, USA, China, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey – are exposed to increased climate risk, particularly from wildfire, drought and extreme rainfall.
  • The highest climate risk overall is projected for two regions of the world; north western Africa, including northern Sudan and Egypt, and western and southern Asia.
  • Some regions are set to face high or very high exposure to up to seven climate hazards
  • Cotton exposure to heat stress (defined as temperatures above 40°C) will be an increased risk across 75% of cotton growing regions, with the risk being high or very high across <5% of regions.
  • 40% of global cotton growing regions are projected to experience a decrease in growing season as temperatures increase beyond the optimum temperature range for cotton growing.
  • Water scarcity and extremes in rainfall, from insufficient in some regions to extreme and more intense in others, will present increased risk for the world’s most productive cotton growing regions. This will add extra pressure to a fibre already under scrutiny for its water footprint, affecting yields and potentially threatening to cause conflict and societal unrest.
  • Exposure to increased risk from drought will impact ~50% of cotton.
  • 20% of the world’s cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from fluvial flooding by 2040, and 30% of cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from landslides.
  • All cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from wildfires.
  • 60% of cotton will be exposed to increased risk from damaging wind speeds, and up to 10% will be exposed to increased risk from storms.

Cotton has a market worth of about $12 bn [1], makes up about 31% of all raw material used in the global textile market with a yearly economic impact of over $600 billion [2] and supports the livelihoods of around 350 million who cultivate or process cotton. Approximately 90% of farmers grow cotton on less than 2 hectares (ha) of land and are located in developing countries, mainly in Central and West Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa [3].

The global analysis is complemented by an in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. This highlights that climate impacts extend beyond direct impacts to cotton production, affecting the entire value chain, including workers involved in harvesting and processing, as well as supply chains.

References:

[1] and [2] Khan, M.A., Wahid, A., Ahmad, M., Tahir, M.T., Ahmed, M., Ahmad, S. and Hasanuzzaman, M., 2020. World Cotton Production and Consumption: An Overview. In Cotton Production and Uses (pp. 1-7). Springer, Singapore. Available from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-981-15-1472-2_1

[3] Vivek Voora, Cristina Larrea, and Steffany Bermudez, 2020. Global Market Report: Cotton. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Available from https://www.iisd.org/system/files/publications/ssi-global-market-report-cotton.pdf 

About Cotton 2040

Convened by Forum for the Future with support from Laudes Foundation, Cotton 2040 is a multi-stakeholder initiative to facilitate the shift to a sustainable global cotton industry which is resilient in a changing climate; which uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods; and where sustainably produced cotton is the norm. Find out more: https://www.forumforthefuture.org/cotton-2040

This global analysis is one of two reports published as part of the Cotton 2040 Climate Adaptation workstream. An additional study provides in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. Both reports, alongside an interactive climate impacts map and supporting resources are available at https://www.acclimatise.uk.com/collaborations/cotton-2040/. Over the next 18 months, Cotton 2040 will bring the sector together to dive deeper into the data, understand implications and identify potential industry responses.


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