France is taking the threat of global warming and the climate disruptions it will cause seriously, and is investing time and money into researching innovative ways to mitigate the effects of climate change to our planet – notably its effects on agriculture and forestry.
The French Alliance for Environmental Research has released a report, titled “60 Research Success Stories for a Sustainable Planet” that outlines the way France is taking the lead on developing ways to reach climate solutions. Many of the “success stories” outlined in the report have to do with the field of agriculture and forestry.
Here are some highlights of the ways France is trying to tackle potential climate disruptions head on in agriculture in France and around the world.
PREDICTING FOOD CRISES
One of the biggest potential negative impacts that climate change could have is on food security. When the planet warms, the climate becomes increasingly unpredictable, leading to potentially disastrous disruptions in crop harvests and food supplies.
French researchers have devoted themselves to fighting this through the power of prediction. Using a computer model to simulate and monitor crops, the program is able to estimate the impact of particular climate scenarios and predict crop yields. The latest version of the model has been applied to several West African countries and could serve as a key early warning system to avert catastrophes in food shortage. It is also currently in use in parts of Brazil.
The program, called SARRA-H, has been in development for over 30 years and became available in three languages in 2014 – English, French and Portuguese. The program uses key data points to analyze crop yields. Things like soil water balance, potential and actual evaporation and transpiration, and biomass yields are plugged into the model to help predict what the harvest is likely to look like for key crops.
The program could prove to be a major tool in the future as global warming disrupts weather patterns, allowing officials to predict disaster before it happens and plan accordingly.
ADAPTING WINES AND VINE
Climate change is also affecting the wine industry. The impact of climate change on wine production is not something new. In just 30 years, grapes are harvested two to three weeks earlier depending on the region. And this trend is continuing. Agronomists estimate that Riesling and Gewurtzaminer varieties will ripen a full 18 days earlier by the middle of the century.
To tackle the threat of climate change to the wine industry, researchers are looking into ways to protect grape vines from the effects of a warmer world.
One of the solutions proposed by researchers in the LACCAVE project, which is devoted to studying long-term impacts of climate change on the wine industry, is to literally relocate the vines. Scientists are exploring possibilities for relocating the vines in regions with lower temperatures or at higher altitudes. According to Herve Quénol and Benjamin Bois, who are part of the LACCAVE project, and specialists in small-scale climate studies, “there is as much climate variability within a single wine-making region, even a small one, as between two different wine-making regions.” Relocating the vines within the same region would thus allow for the wine to retain its connection to its historical terroir.
Other solutions to this problem include testing new varieties that ripen later and that are more resistant to drought and extreme weather patterns.
Around the world, a total of 13 million hectares of forest have been lost each year of the past 10 years. It is vital to strengthen and better manage the world’s forests to tackle climate change, and France has taken the lead in developing ways to accomplish that.
One example comes from France’s South American territory of French Guiana, which is about 90% covered by Amazonian rain forest and is home to over 1,500 tree species. Although deforestation is only a minor issue in French Guiana, this exceptional natural heritage is threatened by climate change.
French researchers launched the CLIMFOR project to better understand current threats, with the aim of exploring the consequences of climate change in four ‘ecosystem services’ in the region: plant diversity, functional diversity, carbon sequestration and wood resources. Thanks to new modeling techniques, CLIMFOR used meteorological data, forest inventories and functional traits to make projections based on various climate scenarios.
The research has shown that there is the potential for a significant ‘water stress’ effect, with negative consequences for the growth of various species. Researches also explained that “trees tend to renew their leaves at the end of the dry season by drawing on their reserves for optimal photosynthetic efficiency at the start of the rainy season.” This seasonal forest pattern may be threatened by a more intense dry season.
Scientists have also successfully created maps that locate ‘irreplaceable’ areas to be targeted for priority protection. The results suggest that carbon stores in the forests of French Guiana are sufficient for biodiversity to be a major goal across the protected areas.
All of these results have greatly improved forest management and will allow officials to better plan for future climate disruptions.