Australia, A Coffee Crisis Is On The Horizon

The future of your morning flat white may not be guaranteed, as climate change threatens to push more than half of the world's suitable coffee land into unsuitability.

While you may be picky about how your coffee is prepared, coffee itself is picky about where it's grown -- favouring a band around the middle of the planet known as the Bean Belt.

But there's a growing consensus among scientists that rising global temperatures will render much of this area unproductive, with studies predicting only 50 percent will remain by 2050 if humans make only modest progress to reduce carbon emissions.

In Latin America, where most of the coffee consumed worldwide is produced, this number could be as high as 88 percent, according to the National Academy of Science.

Coffee cherries. Image: Getty

"Coffee is grown primarily in tropical regions, higher up mountains," Professor of recombination and crop genetics at Southern Cross University Graham King told ten daily.

"If you get a change in temperature then that causes problems because the growing area has moved, and you know, once you're at the top of the mountain you can't go any further."

Graham said as well as impacting the growth of the plant, climate change opens crops up to the spread of diseases like Roya, or leaf rust, which in 2012 spread across Central America, slashing production.

The unpredictability of changing rainfall patterns and intensified droughts cuts yields and damages the quality of taste.

A coffee plant infected with Roya. Image: Getty

Currently, global temperatures are estimated to be approximately one degree celcius warmer than pre-industrial levels.

The recently released IPCC report on global warning warned even with the promises countries made as part of the Paris Agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the world is set to reach 1.5C by around 2040.

If temperatures continue to rise past that point, which the report believes they will if carbon emissions don't fall to zero by 2050, a greater amount of plants will lose over half of their climatically determined range.

A Call To Innovate

The outlook for this commodity, which nearly half of all Australians drink regularly, is a bitter cup to swallow.

But despite industry leaders including the International Coffee Organisation, Starbucks and Lavazza all publicly acknowledging the threats facing coffee production, coffee remains one of the most under-researched and under-innovated crops in the world.

In an effort to develop new and climate-resilient coffee varieties, Australian roasters Single O have teamed up with World Coffee Research, a non-profit research institute, to launch the #NoDeathToCoffee initiative.

Image: Single O

"There is not a farmer in this world that isn't aware how climate change is impacting their farm," Partnership development director of World Coffee Research Greg Meenahan told ten daily.

"Without research and development, the coffee sector will need up to 180 million more bags of coffee in 2050 than we are likely to have.”

The world's first climate-resilient coffees, released by Single O in Australia today, have been created using molecular breeding to ensure higher yields and disease resistance in a bid to "reshape the industry."

The varieties --  Starmaya, Centroamericano and Marsellesa -- are adaptable to multiple altitudes and are disease and pest resistant.