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Climate action - our food security depends on it now more than ever before


22/10/2018

The report published earlier this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees, sounds the final alarm bell for action. Now there is even more evidence that we are facing an existential threat that is going to undermine the future of humanity. 

The report comes at a time where the number of people suffering from hunger has increased to about 821 million according to FAO’s recent figures. One of the main factors causing this rise was in part climate change. 

IPCC points out that there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems - energy, land use, cities and industry. FAO’s work has been focused for years in facing climate change in the land use sectors where its impacts are already being felt on crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries.  

“With a 2-degree increase ending hunger will become extremely challenging, that’s why immediate and enhanced action is so urgent”, said René Castro, Assistant-Director general of FAO. 

What is at stake?

In the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015,  about  195 countries agreed to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, and if possible even below 1.5 degrees. Countries are taking action to achieve this goal, but so far, the targets they have set to limit emissions are not enough to keep global warming below the two degrees Celsius threshold. 

This has been confirmed with even more detail in the IPCC report highlighting that the impact on the agriculture sectors will be worse with an increase from 1.5 to 2 degrees. Those most affected are people depending on these sectors for their livelihoods. Climate change related events such as changes in rainfall patterns, more frequent extreme events and sea level rise all affect the ability to produce healthy and sufficient food. According to the report, if temperatures rise to 1.5°C, 122 million additional people could experience extreme poverty by 2030 mainly due to higher food prices and declining health. 

The report also makes it clear that reaching the Sustainable Development Goals is dependent on what we do in the next 10 years.  It represents a universal alert for action that needs to not only happen now but transform the way we live and interact with our planet and the limited resources it provides.

 What will it take? 

Climate change threatens the future of food and agriculture and with it the livelihoods of millions of farmers. To ensure sufficient food and healthy diets for all, today and tomorrow, the world needs to boost climate action like never before especially in the agricultural sectors. 

The report examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5°C, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences would be. 

According to Castro, “we need to implement global immediate actions that can help us buy time to lower and eventually stabilize the planet’s temperature.” Many of these actions are already being carried out and are attainable within the next years. Limiting GHG emissions would also give people and ecosystems more room to adapt and avoid risks that can make a difference between life and death.  

Hitting the ground and running 

Countries at the last UN Climate Change Conference recognized that we must take into consideration the vulnerabilities of agriculture and food security to climate change. They agreed on working together under the so called Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture to address issues related to agriculture such as, action on soil, livestock, and nutrient and water management, adaptation as well as on the food security and socio-economic impacts of climate change across the agriculture sectors. 

FAO, with its experience and expertise in issues related to agriculture, is working with countries on the ground as well as playing a significant role in the international arena to step up climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes.

FAO is involved in local context specific solutions that if replicated and increased exponentially they would deliver promising further results for climate action. For example, agroforestry and reducing deforestation can help absorb carbon from the atmosphere while increasing food security, sustainable livestock management has the capacity to reduce methane emissions (a potent greenhouse gas) by 30 percent and restoring degraded soils and sustainably managing agricultural land can remove up top 63 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere. 

The solutions exist and we have the know-how. What we need is to scale them fast. Our soils, forests and oceans are huge carbon sinks and are our allies for climate action. There is no time to lose, our future depends on it.