26 March 2014
By Megan Rowling
A key U.N. report on climate change, due out early next week, will show that the impacts of rising temperatures on food security will be more serious and hit earlier than previously thought, a situation the world is “woefully unprepared” to cope with, aid group Oxfam warned on Tuesday.
“Hunger is not and need never be inevitable. However climate change threatens to put back the fight to eradicate it by decades,” the charity said in a briefing paper that analysed 10 factors that will have an increasingly important influence on countries’ ability to feed their people in a warmer world.
Whether or not measures are taken to help farmers adapt to climate change, median crop yields will decline by up to 2 percent during the rest of the century, while crop demand grows 14 percent each decade until 2050, according to a draft summary of the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), seen by Thomson Reuters Foundation. The risks are greatest in tropical countries, due to higher poverty rates and lower ability to adapt, it adds.
While it may be possible to protect crop production with adaptation measures amid warming of around 2 degrees Celsius, in places where local temperatures rise by 4 degrees or more, falling yields and growing food needs will pose “significant risks to food security even with adaptation”, says the draft, which is still under negotiation by governments at a meeting in Japan this week.
The IPCC report is also expected to warn of higher and more volatile food prices, said Oxfam, which itself estimates that world cereal prices could double by 2030, with half the increase driven by climate change.
Oxfam found “serious gaps” between what governments are doing and what they need to do to protect their food systems from worsening extreme weather, as well as gradual shifts in temperature and rainfall. It examined 10 areas, giving the world’s performance a mark out of 10 for each.
The worst-performing efforts were judged to be international adaptation finance and crop irrigation, followed by crop insurance and agricultural research and development.
On funding for climate change adaptation, Oxfam said rich countries have provided only around 2 percent of the money poor countries need. On irrigation, it highlighted how in drought-prone Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, irrigation covers less than 1 percent of arable land, compared with 80 percent in California.
Only two of the factors examined – public agricultural investment and humanitarian aid for food crises – scored more than five out of 10.
But the paper also argued that worsening hunger and food insecurity is not an unavoidable consequence of climate change, at least as long as temperature increases stay below 3 to 4 degrees Celsius.
“If governments act on climate change, it will still be possible to eradicate hunger in the next decade and ensure our children and grandchildren have enough to eat in the second half of the century,” Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s executive director, said in a statement.
The report gave examples of countries where government policy has improved food security, despite poverty and climate stresses. For example, Ghana and Nigeria are both lower-middle-income countries in West Africa but Ghana has better food and climate adaptation policies. They include social protection coverage, public spending on agricultural research and a greater density of weather stations, which make it more able to tackle climate-related risks.
In Asia, Vietnam has also prioritised things like crop irrigation and access to clean water, helping it achieve higher-than-average food security. The same goes for Malawi in southern Africa, Oxfam said.
“The truth is that policy choices can make a real difference,” said Tim Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research for Oxfam’s GROW campaign on food justice.
“It is not all doom and gloom, it is not all inevitable. What we need is a shift in political will and the funding to back it up,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Yet, despite Oxfam’s optimism on the potential for adaptation to prevent climate-related hunger, the charity is also concerned about the limits to what can be achieved if governments fail to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.
The report noted that “irreparable and unavoidable loss and damage to agricultural land and fisheries” is already happening in places like the small Pacific island state of Kiribati, where villagers are being driven inland as fish stocks dwindle and saltwater intrusion harms coconut and taro crops.
“It is clear that if we are to ensure that we, our children, and families around the world have enough to eat, urgent and ambitious emissions reductions are needed now alongside a massive increase in support for adaptation,” the Oxfam paper said.