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How is coffee being affected by the climate crisis?

Already, rising temperatures are leading to lower yields and higher prices. If global heating continues to worsen, the land suitable for coffee cultivation will halve by 2050 and the plant itself could disappear entirely by the end of the century, which would have a profound impact on the 120m people worldwide whose livelihoods depend on its beans.

For many, climate change remains a distant threat.

Though the crisis dominates our news feeds, an alarming number of people continue to turn a blind eye to the havoc it’s wreaking on our planet.

Given that over 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed daily, a recent revelation that global heating is significantly reducing crop yields – and drastically driving up costs – may awaken this cohort to the severity of the situation, however.

That’s if existing knowledge of the increasingly negative impacts of the ecological emergency on sugar, beer, and cocoa hasn’t already.

According to one study, of the 124 known coffee species, 75 (60%) are at risk of going extinct as a direct result of the changing climate and coinciding surge in ‘ongoing systemic shocks’ such as extreme weather events, erratic rainfall, disease, landslides, and droughts. This includes arabica, which as a population we drink the most.

Other research stipulates that even if we limit warming to 1.5°C, the land suitable for coffee cultivation will halve by 2050 (optimal growing temperatures are between 18 and 28°C).

Coffee-drinkers are also expected to notice a vast transformation in the flavour and aroma of their morning brews.

And in a worst-case scenario, the plant itself could be wiped from the face of the Earth by the end of the century, which would have devastating consequences for the 120m people worldwide whose livelihoods depend on its beans.

This is especially true in developing countries, where farmers are the most vulnerable and the effects of the crisis are felt more acutely.

‘Small-scale coffee farmers are living on the frontline of the climate crisis, despite having contributed little to the problem of global warming,’ says Patrick Watt of Christian Aid.

‘To tackle the root causes of the problem, wealthy countries need to follow through on their promises and fund support for farmers in poorer countries to grow climate resilient crops and diversify their sources of income’

For many of the 70 countries that produce coffee, the industry is central to their economy.

More than half (59%) of earnings from exports in Burundi are from the product, while beans make up a third (33%) of Ethiopia’s exports and 17% of Nicaragua’s.

So far, Brazil and Vietnam have been the hardest hit, where production is now set to move away from the equator and into the mountains – leading to more deforestation and amplifying coffee’s already-high carbon footprint (growing a single kilogram of coffee can produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 15.33kg of CO2).

With this being an obviously flawed solution, the development of lab-grown coffee and synthetic alternatives that are made from cheaper and more sustainable ingredients like ground date seeds is underway.

Until these hit the market, however, working alongside farmers – rather than against them – must be a priority, explains Fairtrade Foundation’s senior policy manager, David Taylor.

‘The catastrophic consequences of environmental breakdown are endangering not only the livelihoods of coffee farmers, but also the future of their popular crop,’ he says.

‘Farming communities have a critical role in addressing the climate crisis and have the expertise to tackle it.’