Where Will We Grow Coffee when the Earth Heats Up?

A recent study by The Climate Institute on behalf of Fair Trade Australia predicts that coffee production in current areas where it is grown will fall significantly in the coming years as temperatures and high altitude rainfall increase. Here is a bit about the climate change risks to coffee.

The coming decades are likely to see dramatic shifts in where and how much coffee is produced worldwide. Regional studies suggest rising temperatures could render much Mexican coffee unviable by the 2020s, and most of Nicaragua will lose majority of its coffee zone by 2050, and Tanzanian Arabica yields are projected to reach critically low levels by 2060.

According to a 2015 global study, hotter weather and changes in rainfall patterns are projected to cut the area suitable for coffee in half by 2050 across different emissions scenarios. The details differ markedly with locality, but the impacts are likely to be heaviest at low latitudes and low altitudes.

Elsewhere, the predicted effects are still negative albeit less pronounced. Brazil and Vietnam-two of the biggest producers-appear set to experience substantial losses. Conversely, the climate of 2050 seems to favor some areas, particularly in the highlands of East Africa-as well as in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Andes. Before the century is out, however, conditions are set to become inhospitable for Arabica coffee in the wild in East Africa-its center of origin.

According to these folks Colombia as well as other Andean producers may continue to produce in volume. We have written before about coffee leaf rust and how the disease has pushed production of Arabica coffee up the mountains to higher and higher altitudes. If climate change ramps up temperatures higher and higher just how far north can they grow coffee? It turns out that during the epoch known as the Eocene there were palm trees and crocodiles in Greenland!

The Eocene Extreme

An NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) website, Climate.gov says that the hottest the earth has been was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum about 56 million years ago. This is the period after the extinction of dinosaurs with mammals on the rise. At that time there were no polar ice caps and crocodiles and palm trees were prevalent around the Arctic Circle.

The planet has sometimes been much warmer than it is now. One of the warmest times was during the geologic period known as the Neoproterozoic, between 600 and 800 million years ago. Another “warm age” is a period geologists call the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which occurred about 56 million years ago.

With that thought in mind is it impossible to assume that given tens or hundreds of years that coffee growers would not move gradually north and south seeking mountainous regions of heavy rainfall and cloud cover in order to grow high quality coffee? Given that changes occur gradually one might assume that coffee production would gradually migrate to more hospitable regions.

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