Climate change set to worsen hunger: new report

Campaigns and Advocacy, GROW, Media Releases, News article written on the 25 Mar 2014

Climate change could put back the fight against hunger by decades and our global food system is woefully unprepared to cope with the challenge, according to an Oxfam report released today.

The warning comes as governments gather in Japan today to agree a major new scientific report – the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation – which is expected to show that the impacts of climate change on food will be far more serious and will hit much sooner than previously thought.  

Oxfam’s briefing paper, ‘Hot and Hungry: How to stop climate change derailing the fight against hunger’, analyses 10 key factors that will have an increasingly important influence on countries’ ability to feed their people in a warming world.

Oxfam Australia’s food policy specialist Kelly Dent said that across all 10 areas, including international adaptation finance, agricultural investment, crop insurance, humanitarian aid and food stocks, Oxfam found serious gaps between what governments were doing and what they needed to do to protect our food systems.

“The results also show that while many countries – both rich and poor – are unprepared for the impact of climate change on food security, it’s the world’s poorest and most food insecure among them that are least prepared and most at risk,” Ms Dent said.

“In Australia, climate change could cause production of wheat, beef, dairy and sugar to decline by an estimated 9-10 per cent by 2030 and 13-19 per cent by 2050, which will also lead to a decline in export of these items.

“World grain reserves are at historically low levels. If extreme or erratic weather wipes out harvests in key producing countries, food prices could skyrocket, triggering major food crises.”

Meanwhile, women make up 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, but discrimination makes it hard for them to adapt to climate change. For example, women rarely own the land they farm, so it’s hard to change their farming methods to deal with a changing climate.

Oxfam’s analysis also highlights that a number of countries such as Ghana, Viet Nam and Malawi are bucking the trend by taking action in areas such as social protection, crop irrigation and agricultural investment. This is helping them to outstrip countries such as Nigeria, Laos and Niger on food security, despite sharing similar levels of income and climate risk.

 “In poor countries, climate change is the biggest threat to our chances of winning the fight against hunger. It could have grave consequences for the availability of food we eat, but the world is woefully underprepared for it,” Ms Dent said.

Without urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, these  impacts will become more serious. It is estimated there could be 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five in 2050 compared to a world without climate change – that’s the equivalent of all under-fives in the US and Canada combined.

“The Australian Government must aim for far deeper cuts in Australia’s emissions and scale up support to climate change adaptation programs in developing countries,” Ms Dent said.  “We can also play a leadership role in tackling global hunger by prioritising support to small-scale food producers and doubling aid to food security by 2016.

“Hunger is not inevitable.  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.”

The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, due to be published on 31 March, is expected to warn that climate change will lead to declines in global agricultural yields of up to 2 per cent each decade at the same time as demand for food increases by 14 per cent per decade.  It is also expected to warn of higher and more volatile food prices – Oxfam estimates world cereal prices could double by 2030, with half of this rise driven by climate change. 

Read the report here

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