Climate Change – Could you live without coffee?

Climate change. could you live without coffee?

coffee cup and coffee beans
Like many, coffee is a big part of my daily routine. I start the day with coffee, have at least one during the day and I’m sometimes guilty of having one before bed. It’s hard to imagine my world without coffee, but unfortunately a world without an abundance of coffee may be a reality in the not too distant future.

Coffee is a climate-sensitive crop and small changes in temperature and rainfall can have a big impact on crop yields. I got an insight into a future without coffee when I participated in the AYCC’s For the Love of the Reef challenge. I gave up coffee for two weeks to raise awareness of the effects that climate change will have on our everyday lives. Mornings were not a happy time and I don’t ever want to have to go through that ordeal again.

Did you know that coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world behind oil? There are two main types of coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are known for their superior taste and quality and account for 75% of the coffee produced worldwide; and the most sensitive to the impacts of climate change.

our say december 2015 using keep cup at cafe
Ordering coffee at the CERES Merri Table with my reusable coffee cup

Arabica beans are known for their superior taste and quality and account for 75% of the coffee produced worldwide; it is also the most sensitive to the impacts of climate change. Arabica has adapted to specific climate zones, which means even half a degree temperature rise can significantly impact a crop’s yield. Additionally, pests and diseases thrive in warmer environments. The ideal temperature for these crops to grow is between 18°C -22°C . With global temperatures forecast to increase by 2°C to 2.5°C by 2050, yields are expected to fall by up to 25% in some countries .

The effect of climate change on coffee isn’t just going to impact us in the coffee capital. More than 90% of the world’s coffee is grown in developing countries where the crop is a main source of revenue for these governments. It is important to consider this when buying coffee and try to choose brands that ensure farmers are receiving a fair and equitable price for their product.

impacts of climate change on coffee infographic
Above: Infographic on how climate change will effect your daily caffeine fix. Source: AYCC

One study in Tanzania predicts that every 1°C rise in minimum temperature will result in annual yield losses of approximately 137 kg per hectare. This is roughly 60% of the average smallholder farmer’s current production in Tanzania. Other studies indicate that the same 1°C rise in temperature will result in a loss of 25% of Brazil’s Arabica coffee production. It would also limit coffee production to only 28 municipalities, down from the current production in 702 municipalities.

In order to keep up with the high demand, farmers need to adapt to these changing climatic conditions. However this isn’t always as easy as just moving the crops to a suitable climatic area. For many farmers this isn’t a feasible option.

Climate change was a prominent topic at the Global Coffee Forum during the ‘Coffee and Sustainability’ session in Milan. Some of the presenters put the coffee & climate initiative into the context of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change, offering support to the global efforts to effectively address climate change.

There are also some serious environmental consequences from clearing forests that need to be considered.

To avoid this bleak, coffee-less future, we need to do our best to reduce our impact on the environment to lessen the effects of climate change. Changing the way that we drink our coffee today can work towards these goals.

Australians and people around the world love getting take away coffees. Each year, 500 billion disposable cups end up in landfills around the world. Most disposable paper cups are lined with plastic meaning that they cannot be recycled. This also means that they take a long time to break down in landfill. If you were to use a disposable paper cup every day for one year, you will have thrown away nearly 1kg of plastic! More recently, you may have noticed many cafes stocking compostable or biodegradable paper cups. However these are only compostable at a commercial composting facility not your backyard bin, meaning that most of the time these cups also just end up in landfill.

impact of coffee cups infographic
Above: Infographic on the impact of each cup incorporating a service life for 12 months for each product. Source: Sameeraparakkramablog

A few years ago I invested in a reusable coffee cup and made the commitment to stop using disposable cups. I still have the same cup today and I have made a conscious effort to not use a disposable cup since. I carry my reusable cup with me and if I forget it, then I don’t get a takeaway coffee. I am not saying that everyone needs to go to this extreme, but if we can avoid throwing away disposable cups where possible, it can make a big difference.

It takes the equivalent of approximately 15 disposable cups to produce 1 KeepCup. If you are someone that buys a takeaway coffee most days, then it should only take a few weeks to break even.

I often hear many people say that carrying a reusable cup around with them is inconvenient or that it tastes better in a paper cup (seriously?). Up until a few months ago, my housemate Alessi was one of those people. She had a number of KeepCups (freebies from conferences) lying around but never wanted to use them despite my constant reminders. Recently, Alessi took a pledge at her work to use a KeepCup at least 15 times. Loving a challenge, she took it on and hasn’t looked back! She loves her KeepCup and has it with her every day.

alessi leaving home with her keep cup
Alessi with her Keep Cup

Climate change is having big impacts all around the world. However many people find it hard to imagine how climate change will affect them personally. Coffee is just one example of how climate change is going to have impacts on all aspects of our day-to-day lives. Coffee (amongst other foods) is going to be severely impacted by climate change but our drinking habits are also part of the problem.

Now don’t even get me started on those coffee pods…

By Nick Rickard, CERES Educator

Original post on the CERES Sustainability Hub –


  1. http://theconversation.com/coffee-lovers-beware-climate-change-may-affect-your-brew-42366
  2. http://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-causing-havoc-for-global-coffee-yields-25685
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168192315000830
  4. http://vs.keepcup.com.au/
  5. http://www.aycc.org.au/
  6. http://sameeraparakkramablogs.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/keepcup-blends-best-elements-of.html
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