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World “woefully unprepared” for climate impacts on food

World “woefully unprepared” for climate impacts on food, warns Oxfam

Climate change could put back the fight against hunger by decades but our global food system is woefully unprepared to cope with the challenge, said Oxfam today (25 March).

The warning comes as governments gather in Japan to agree a major new scientific report, 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 ten key factors that will have an increasingly important influence on countries’ ability to feed their people in a warming world.

Oxfam New Zealand’s Senior Policy Advisor Sarah Meads 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,” Meads said.

In the Pacific region, climate change could cause production of sweet potato in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to decline more than 50 per cent by 2050, maize in Vanuatu and Timor Leste to decline by 6 - 14 per cent by 2050, and sugarcane in Fiji to decline by 7 - 21 per cent by 2070, which will also lead to a decline in exports of some 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,” Meads said.

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,” Meads 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 New Zealand Government must aim for far deeper cuts in New Zealand’s emissions and scale up support to climate change adaptation programs in developing countries,” Meads said. “We can also play a leadership role in supporting a fair and ambitious global climate change framework in 2015 and tackling global hunger by prioritising support to small-scale food producers and doubling aid to food security by 2016.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation, due to be published on March 31, 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.

While temperature rises of just 1.5 degrees will have serious impacts on our food system the IPCC is also expected to highlight a global temperature threshold of 3 - 4 degrees beyond which we will experience runaway global food crises – we are on track to reach this threshold in the second half of this century.

“Hunger is not inevitable,” Meads said. “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.”


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