Climate change and food security: Is the link strong enough?

Food security and climate change are inextricably interlinked, and policy-makers and experts can and should work for more integrated approaches addressing both. That is the main takeaway from a side event on Wednesday 17 October, during the 45th Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), in Rome.

The link can be explained through two ways – agriculture both influence and is influenced by climate change. Agriculture is highly sensitive to temperature increases and variability in precipitation patterns, which makes food production very susceptible to climate change; and it also contributes to climate change as the sector is causing 10-12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Wednesday’s debate was motivated by a call made last year at CFS 44 encouraging the CFS to be more closely involved with the international climate agenda. The event was organized by the UN Rome-based Agencies – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) – together with the Government of New Zealand.

The IPCC special report Global Warming of 1.5°C (October 2018) shows that the most optimistic predictions of 1.5°C global warming present very significant challenges to maintaining food security in the most vulnerable regions. Crop yields, their nutritional value as well as availability and access will be adversely affected by climate change. Responding to and addressing the risks and challenges posed by climate change for food and nutrition security therefore requires very urgent action.

Climate change is a growing threat to food security, and an unprecedented transition is imperative for meeting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Individuals can make the difference as individual habits like what you eat and how much food you waste are behind major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. “If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter after China and the United States,” said Ambassador Mario Arvelo, CFS Chair.

The representative of the Rome-based Agencies, Bing Zhao, advocated for more preventive climate actions, mentioning the benefits from empowering smallholder farmers and investing in early warning mechanisms, effective information sharing and appropriate infrastructure. “These will save funds from humanitarian response,” he stressed.

“We should give priority to the poor and most vulnerable,” highlighted Maria Helena Semedo, FAO’s Deputy Director-General for Climate and Natural Resources. The 2.5 billion people who depend on agriculture worldwide are small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities generating more than half of the global agricultural production and who are particularly at risk from disasters.

The panelists agreed that achieving food security while increasing climate change resilience requires more coordination between different actors – government ministries (agriculture, health, environment, trade etc.), non-profit organizations and the private sector.