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Climate change a problem today - not tomorrow - for food security, experts say

by Samuel Mintz | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 7 April 2014 14:26 GMT

Children from Myanmar are given food at Hway Ka Loke Boarding House in Mae Sot, in northwest Thailand, on October 13, 2010. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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But powerful interests continue to trump evidence and slow action on curbing global climate change, researchers say

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climate change has already had a powerful negative effect on agriculture and food security for the world’s most vulnerable, and that impact will get worse, according to agricultural experts responding to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report at a conference in London.

Pramod Aggrawal, an IPCC author and reviewer, said scientific data on agriculture over the last three decades shows that “indeed some impacts (are) already happening in terms of food security. It’s not a problem of the future anymore.”

Between 2011 and 2012, for instance, global production of grain fell 3 percent, largely as a result of droughts that hit maize in the United States and wheat in Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

And  “the projections of negative impacts keep increasing with time,” said Aggrawal, who heads the South Asia regional programme of the CGIAR research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. “Especially from 2030 onwards, what you can expect is significant decreases [in crop yields].”

By 2050, as food production falls and prices rise, “the adaptation options that we often talk about become more and more limited,” he said.

Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank, predicted last week that “fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change in the next five to 10 years,” according to an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

Agricultural experts meeting in London said temperature increases of more than 4 degrees Celsius and less predictable water cycles, including unreliable rainfall, in particular, will challenge the ability of farms and ecosystems to adapt by 2050. To respond to changes in food supplies, people around the world may need to rethink their diets, including eating less meat, the experts said.

Many of the speakers at last week’s event said small farmers must be part of discussions about climate and food security as they are often among those most touched by the impacts of climate change, and they play an integral role in global agriculture systems.

“Sixty percent of the world’s farmers are small-scale farmers, and they produce 50 percent of the world’s food,” said Christine Allen, director of policy and public affairs at Christian Aid. “These are not just added laborers. These are people that are absolutely essential to tackling the problem of sustainable food production.”


Camilla Toulmin, director of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, said the new IPCC report made clear the growing challenges facing the world’s food supply – but said many obstacles stand in the way of finding solutions.

“What’s changed on the science? (There is) even clearer, even more unequivocal evidence of climate change impacts on agricultural and food systems, today. Not tomorrow, today,” she said.

Nevertheless there are major political roadblocks to taking action, she said.

“We must continue to address perverse incentives and short-termism that you find in so much of our finance and business community, and which were major contributors to the worst (economic) crash that we’ve had for several generations,” she said.

Toulmin praised the recent work of the IPCC as an “important building block,” but reminded the audience that “knowledge is only one element in achieving change.”

Even as the effects of climate change become more and more tangible and dangerous, she added, “interests often trump evidence.”

Samuel Mintz is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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