New climate change report – impacts on food security

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”

These are the words of  Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, at a news conference on Monday presenting a new report.  The Working Group II reports on climate change’s impacts on everything from ecosystems and species to hunger, poverty, development, and global conflict. What it makes clear is that climate change is already having serious effects, and that the poorest countries will likely feel it most- but all of us will feel it.

FACT: By 2050, climate change could increase the number of undernourished children in Africa to 52 million.

FACT: By 2050, climate change could increase the number of undernourished children in Africa to 52 million.

To paraphrase The New York Times, the strongest effects are yet to come, but they’re not waiting til tomorrow:

Ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming….

In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

Climate change will put health and livelihoods at risk as global economies take a hit, resources become more scarce and violent conflicts for control of them increase.

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“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report states.

The IPCC, which along with Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its work on climate change, focused much of this report on the impact on food production and health, including undernutrition.

Writes the Times:

For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.

The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress. The report said that climate change was already dragging down the output of wheat and corn at a global scale, compared to what it would otherwise be.

Modern Farmer summarizes the report’s projections for global agriculture, which are particularly concerned with the challenges of feeding a growing population in a warming world. The IPCC says that the impacts of climate change—and the costs of adaptation—will be “reduced substantially” if we cut our emissions of greenhouse gases.

FACT: Climate change will reduce global crop yields by up to 2% per decade for the rest of the century. That’s a global loss of 50 million tons in cereals alone.

FACT: Climate change will reduce global crop yields by up to 2% per decade for the rest of the century. That’s a global loss of 50 million tons in cereals alone.

Farmers across the globe – from coastal Asia to central Africa, from the United States to Northern Europe are already feeling the impact, but might not all have equal opportunity to adapt. “Since the intergovernmental panel issued its last big report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are making extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions,” the Times writes; however, while greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to decline in some wealthy nations, they are growing quickly from other rising economic powers.  A World Bank estimate cited in the report states that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year in aid to try to offset the effects of climate change; currently they are receiving only a few billion dollars a year in aid for this purpose.

Climate impacts our work to achieve the Zero Hunger Challenge, all over the world. We cannot fully address child nutrition and health, yearlong access to adequate food, sustainable food systems, smallholder productivity or food waste and loss – in sum, we can not eliminate hunger – without also addressing the urgent issue of climate change. And we can not address it unless we all agree to work together, and to work now.

Keep up on the latest from the IPCC II launch with Climasphere.

The full 27-page IPCC II summary for policymakers can be read here.

The Guardian has a good breakdown on the impact to wildlife and the many ways in which the ecosystem is changing, from seasonal shift to a change in species range.

Read EAA’s press release about the IPCC report, including a quote from the newest Zero Hunger Challenge participant, World Vision.

Zero Hunger participant Canadian Foodgrains Bank focused on  the report’s focus on smallholder farmers here.

You can also read this piece at MSNBC, which quotes ZHC Participant Food Tank’s co-founder Danielle Nierenberg.

And check out this blog post by Tim Gore, Climate Change Policy Advisor for Oxfam, on Oxfam’s five key takeaways on climate change and hunger.