Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Global Policy Dialogues for Climate Action

Session 1: Building Food and Water Security in an Era of Climate Shocks


March 24th, 2021

As prepared


Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I thank Under-Secretary General Liu Zhenmin for inviting me to give today’s keynote address in this first global dialogue on Climate Change, Food and Water.

2. The impacts of climate change on production, livelihoods and ecosystem have worrying implications for food security and nutrition. 

3. Science shows that climate change is increasing variability in the water cycle and distribution.

4. This will:

  • reduce the predictability of water availability and demand,
  • affect water quality,
  • exacerbate water scarcity, and
  • disrupt the livelihoods of millions of rural people who depend on agriculture.

5. Freshwater resources are the cradle of humankind; our history revolves around civilizations that were born on the banks of the Nile, the Ganges, and the Yellow River, just to name a few.

6. Uncontaminated freshwater is at the core of healthy agri-food systems: Pastoralists need it for their stock, fisherfolk for their livelihoods, and food processors to ensure food safety.

7. However, freshwater resources are becoming increasingly scarce as populations grow, urbanization and industrialization develop, lifestyle and diets change.

8. This will constrain the efforts and capacities for effective adaptation to climate change, worsen inequality in access to water, and threaten the sustainability of water-related ecosystems and the livelihoods that depend on them.

9. Climate change is leading to extreme fluctuation of rainfall, increasing challenges for rainfed agriculture.

10. Recent estimates suggest that almost 800 million hectares, or 14 percent, of rainfed cropland and pastureland are severely affected by recurring drought.

11. Furthermore, over 60 percent of irrigated cropland (171 million hectares) are under high to very high water stress.

12. Farmers have been adapting to changes in precipitation and temperature over millennia.

13. However, the current pace and magnitude of these changes are of great concern, especially for the rural poor.

14. If we do not address climate change challenges swiftly and boldly, we will fail to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

15. Especially now that the global economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to take informed decisions towards a green and sustainable recovery.

16. Timely action at appropriate scale by all stakeholders towards sustainable and integrated water resources management will play a key role.

17. We will also need to embrace a holistic approach, because competition and demand for water is growing in all sectors. A more efficient use of water resources is needed in both rainfed and irrigated agriculture.

18. This is the only way to produce more with limited water resources, while adapting to climate change and mitigating its impacts.

19. It sounds obvious, but it is not, because using water more efficiently must be done while helping preserve water-related ecosystems that sustain livelihoods and ensuring equitable access to clean water for all.

20. Achieving SDG 6 on water and sanitation for all is essential for achieving SDG 2 on food and nutrition for all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

21. With this in view, FAO proposes three major entry points for action to address water and climate related challenges in agriculture.

22. At the technical and management level, the first entry point, large productivity gains are within reach through investments in rainwater harvesting and conservation, and improved irrigation systems, alongside the use of drought-tolerant varieties, improved grazing and innovative technologies.

23. Sustainable soil management and recarbonization of soils can significantly contribute to water harvesting and increased productivity. 

24. The water stored in soil serves as the source for 90 percent of the world’s agricultural production and represents about 65 percent of the planet’s freshwater.

25. We must build the business case to make investments in sustainable agriculture and water management appealing and adoptable to decision-makers, farmers and investors.

26. FAO provides key information tools to make this possible.

27. For example, FAO's Global Information System on Water and Agriculture, AQUASTAT, collects and analyses national-level data of water resources and their usage in agriculture across 147 countries.

28. To monitor and assess water productivity at different levels and timelines, FAO launched an innovative online platform named WaPOR – an open-source, remote sense based tool to benefit farmers and decision makers alike.

29. By presenting accurate information in a consistent and standard way, AQUASTAT and WaPOR are examples of valuable tools for adapting water management to a changing climate.

30. The second entry point – to address water and climate related challenges in agriculture – is good governance: effective institutional and legal frameworks to create an inclusive, enabling environment for all actors. Building up water saving society is joint mission on climate change.

31. In this respect, FAO stresses the importance of water accounting and auditing, secure water and land tenure, and mechanisms for ensuring incentives for effective water use.

32. Community-based water user associations can often play a crucial role in the sustainable management of water.

33. All these institutional dimensions become even more critical under climate change to ensure the ability of stakeholders to adapt.

34. Finally, the overall policy environment is the third entry point. It is key to promoting sustainable management of water. In particular, we need the right incentives – and disincentive measures - to encourage favourable investment by adoption of best practices and facilitate adaptation.

35. If subsidies on inputs and energy promote inefficient water use, efforts to improve water productivity may be made in vain.

36. Policy harmonization is key to promoting sustainable management of water. We have to look at water related issues from the overall perspective of economic, social, environmental sustainability, as well as livelihoods - not only of farmers but also of urban citizens, the industry and the energy sectors. We have to share the cost and the investment needed to increase water efficiency and reach sustainability.

37. Thus, coordination across sectors and geographic areas to ensure policy coherence is also essential for a favourable policy environment.

38. In the context of climate change, this also means taking into account that agriculture can substantially contribute to balancing the global carbon cycle, and limit greenhouse gas emissions.

39. Some of these mitigation options are linked to improving water management, as is the case of methane emissions from rice production.

40. Others can improve water resource availability while also mitigating climate change, as is the case of avoiding deforestation.

41. Policy coherence is therefore important for the agri-food system both as a user of water, but also as a potential contributor to climate change mitigation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

42. To conclude, let me stress that, agri-food systems must play a central role in addressing climate change and growing water resource constraints. 

43. At FAO, we are ready to tackle this challenge.

44. Our Strategic Framework 2022-31 seeks to support the 2030 Agenda through the transformation to MORE efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better life, leaving no one behind. 

45. We provide the information, the experience and the tools that can turn innovative ideas into reality on the ground for a world free of poverty and hunger.

Thank you.