Climate change and global hunger

Ecosystem Restoration Camp
Will Crombie
Hunger impacts millions of people each year and the number of people facing hunger could see a sharp increase in coming years.

So long as temperatures continue to rise, climate change-related food insecurity will remain a major issue for countries around the globe.

Hunger remains a global crisis. Around the world, 135 million people in 55 countries face acute hunger every year.

New research on the links between climate change and food security suggests this crisis may soon become even worse. 

Natural disasters, which scientists believe may have been made worse or more frequent by climate change, are doing more damage than usual to global food production systems.

Disasters

As a result, this phenomenon is majorly impacting almost every aspect of agriculture and food distribution.

More intense floods and droughts can destroy harvests, driving up food prices and limiting the variety of food available.

This article shows how climate change is making hunger worse in some of the world's poorest countries — and what governments can do to mitigate the effects.

As the planet warms, extreme weather events are becoming more common and more severe. Droughts, floods and other extreme weather events damage infrastructure and housing — as well as agriculture.

The most food-insecure countries — which are also those that generate the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions — are already feeling the impacts of these increasingly severe disasters.

Ambitious

Floods, made worse by climate change, can destroy crops, cause landslides and strip away topsoil.

At the same time, increased heat appears to be making disease outbreaks in livestock and crops more common.

In recent years, fish yields from Lake Tanganyika have fallen dramatically, and scientists believe the lake's rapidly warming waters may be partly to blame. 

Current research shows that as temperatures rise, crop production will get more and more difficult. According to one study, corn yields will decrease an average of 7.4 percent for every degree Celsius of warming.

Worldwide, the most ambitious climate change policies look to limit warming to two degrees Celsius.

Nutraceuticals

However, not every government is taking enough action to meet these goals. In the worst-case scenario, we may be on track for as much as four degrees of warming.

This level of warming would have a devastating impact on food production around the globe — especially in those regions that already struggle to manage food insecurity. 

In the near term, new agricultural practices could help curb agriculture's environmental impact and improve nutrition in food-insecure regions. 

According to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, for example, the cultivation of edible insects in place of conventional livestock could significantly decrease agricultural emissions.

Increased cultivation of nutritionally dense foods, like nutraceuticals, could also help prevent malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies in food-stressed areas.

Malnutrition

At the same time, regenerative agriculture practices could help rebuild topsoil and restore fish stocks in areas struck by landslides and warming waters.

Building resilience to climate change in communities that are most likely to be impacted could also help.

For example, programs that help countries detect the early signs of food insecurity may improve their ability to mount quick responses to food production failures.

Quick responses to malnutrition are typically much cheaper and more effective than late ones. 

During the early days of the 2005 Niger famine, for example, it would have cost $1 a day per child to prevent acute malnutrition if early warning signs had been acknowledged.

Droughts

By July 2006, the cost of emergency operations had increased to $80 per malnourished child. 

According to analysis from ACF International, early warning systems exist in many countries vulnerable to food insecurity, but these systems are often underdeveloped.

Investing in these programs could help countries quickly and more effectively respond to malnutrition.

So long as temperatures continue to rise, climate change-related food insecurity will remain a major issue for countries around the globe.

Floods, droughts and warming waters will have major impacts on food production, both in the short- and long-term. 

Agriculture

Quick action can help food-insecure countries manage the impact of climate change. New agricultural practices, like the cultivation of low-emission livestock and nutrient-dense foods, may also help these nations improve their climate change resiliency.

The best long-term strategy, however, will need to include programs that curb global greenhouse gas emissions. Even a 2-degree Celsius change in temperature will have a major influence on the production of staple crops. 

More ambitious climate action would almost certainly help prevent malnutrition that comes from falling crop yields as temperatures rise. 

Programs that look to combat malnutrition, like the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, will also continue to be essential.

Ending or reducing malnutrition where it exists right now will help those communities better manage the future effects of climate change on agriculture.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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