Climate talks: 4C rise will have dire effect on world hunger, UN warns

The UN’s World Food Programme says climate change is stretching resources, and warming could cause a ‘semi-permanent food disaster’ in parts of the world
John Vidal The Guardian 1 Dec 15;

El Niños, climate change and increasing conflict linked to prolonged droughts and extreme weather are leaving the world unable to cope with the food needs of millions of people, the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

The UN agency, which last year appealed for $8.5bn from governments to provide food aid to people in 80 or more countries but only received $5.5bn, said donors had never been more generous but that the challenges were now outpacing available funds.

“The humanitarian system is increasingly stretched financially and operationally. Weather disasters require responses in more places and for longer periods,” said the WFP executive director, Ertharin Cousin, in Paris for the climate talks.

“The global climate negotiations are critical for a world without hunger. Among the most significant impact of climate change is its potential to increase hunger and malnutrition. The current El Niño and complex droughts, storms and floods the world is experiencing today provide a window into what our future could look like if a meaningful climate agreement is not reached.”

To streamline responses to food emergencies, the agency is trying to work ahead of weather-related disasters. Using three- to six-month regional climate forecasts the WFP can now predict pretty accurately where a food emergency will strike, nine months to a year ahead. But working with the UK Met Office and the Hadley Centre for climate change, it has now mapped for the first time the potential effects on world hunger of increasing temperatures.

The map shows that, at present, Africa and Asia have hotspots of predictable vulnerability. But once data from the IPCC’s fifth assessment report on climate change is factored in, the map turns darker and it is possible to see which countries will be most affected by temperature increases and extreme weather over the longer term.

If temperatures rise by only 2C, then millions more people would be affected across Central America, Africa and Asia. If temperatures were to rise between 4C and 5C, the map becomes covered in hotspots – suggesting a semi-pemanent food disaster in many parts of the world.

Cousin will not predict the cost of providing humanitarian food aid on a much larger scale, but accepts it is likely to be many tens of billions of dollars a year. “Climate change has the potential to reverse the whole development path,” she says.

The situation could potentially be even worse, as the maps do not factor in increasing conflict, which she says is linked to climate. “Most of WFP’s resources now go into conflict areas. It used to be to areas like the Sahel and East Africa which were most in need in need because of droughts. Now 50% of our entire operation is addressing a combination of climate and conflict.”

Cousin echoes the World Bank, which has linked conflict with climate. “The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict. Climate is an added stress factor,” she says

With this year’s El Niño expected to peak in the next few months, WFP says that Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and parts of Central America will be in great need of food aid.

Better forecasting allows it to prepare communities ahead of failed harvests, but also gives governments more time to prepare food stocks and relief. “When the shock occurs we can trigger predictable funding and also funding to help people to recover afterwards.

“We need new approaches. It’s the only way to help lift vulnerable people out of a cycle of chronic hunger and poverty, for good,” Cousin said.

She predicts that climate finance intended to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change will need to be used to feed people.

FAO urges "hand-in-hand" approach to hunger and climate change
Focus on agriculture, forestry and healthy soils can help push back "tipping point" for many poor people
FAO 1 Dec 15;

1 December 2015, Paris - Providing support to developing countries and their agricultural sectors is essential for the global goals of eradicating hunger and tackling the challenges of climate change, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in Paris today.

As world leaders gather to discuss commitments necessary to prevent average temperatures from rising by more than two degrees, "we are already crossing tipping points for families and communities," he said at the UN Climate Summit COP21.

Poor family farmers are being driven off their land by prolonged drought, coastal fishing communities are losing their homes due to rising sea levels, and pastoralists are being forced to migrate in search of grazing lands, Graziano da Silva said. "These are not distant scenarios. All this is happening now," he added.

That the poor and most vulnerable peoples are already suffering from the brunt of climate changes they did the least to cause is "clearly an injustice," he said.

Graziano da Silva spoke at a special event on agriculture co-organized by France and FAO and held under the aegis of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda that showcased existing solutions to the challenges of climate change, including FAO's Blue Growth Initiative and its Save Food Initiative.

At a related event focusing on forestry, FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo noted the importance of forests in responding to climate change and reducing hunger and poverty and responding to climate change. It is important to make sure that high quality research and analyses is actually used, she said.

A hand-in-hand approach

FAO argues that hunger and climate change must be tackled "hand-in-hand," at the same time, an approach that requires building more sustainable, productive and resilient agricultural sectors, Graziano da Silva said. Actions geared to that end can transform human lives and also "cut across the usual distinction between adaptation and mitigation," he added.

While the inhabitants of the 50 poorest countries are responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), many developing nations have prominently focused on their agricultural sectors as part of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that all countries are required to formulate.

Wealthier nations must now support their less developed peers to "bring their INDCs to life," Graziano da Silva said, saying the international community can help them move to the next stage by identifying "specific adaptation strategies, finance opportunities, technology transfer and robust data collection and monitoring."

FAO is ready to support its members in implementing their plans and help them "seize the transformative potential" of resilient agricultural sectors, he added.

Noting how many problems - climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, women's empowerment along with food security - are intertwined, Graziano da Silva quoted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon: "Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all."

"At FAO we firmly believe that sustainable agriculture is certainly one of these solutions," he said.

It is now time to act after more than two decades of talking about climate change, he said. "This Conference (COP21) must be the beginning of a new era on how to tackle climate change. We have a long way ahead" he said.

Healthy soils

"Sustainable soil management will benefit all and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030," Graziano da Silva said at another event launching the "4 pour mille initiative," a French-led voluntary action plan seeking to raise soil carbon stocks by 0.4 percent a year in order to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide while also boosting soil fertility.

The initiative, which endorses the application of agrocecology and related agricultural practices, calls on states, local authorities, companies, farmers' organizations, non-governmental organizations and research institutes to commit to farming methods that maintain or enhance soil carbon stock wherever possible, and to preserve carbon-rich soils.

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