COP21: Millions more to go hungry if CO2 levels continue to rise

Rising sea levels could jeopardise food security to a devastating extent due to loss of farmland. [mikeyskatie/Flickr]

Global food security is a crucial issue that will be addressed at the COP21 summit. Our partner Journal de l’Environnemment reports.

It is one of the most serious consequences of global warming, with the Global South due to be hit hard in the rest of the remainder of this century. On the side-lines of the negotiations currently ongoing in Paris, the question of food security will be raised by a number of experts, who fear that it could cause more conflict and displace even more people.

It is a relatively unknown fact, but the global food security situation has improved in recent years. The planet currently has 805 million malnourished people, around 11% of the population, whereas in the 1990-1992 period, the figure was around 1 billion or 19% of the population. However, the situation could quickly deteriorate due to climate change.

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The first effects are already being felt, even if they have been somewhat offset by growth rates shown by developing countries. In India, for example, where agriculture is severely affected by the whims of the climate, the normally dry month of March has seen rainfall that has increased to the tune of between 500 and 1000% in certain provinces. This is according to an NGO report produced by Shiraz Wajih, of the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group.

“For every 1 degree (Celsius) rise in temperature observed, a 20% reduction in wheat yield was recorded,” said Hilal Elver of the United Nations. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global food production will have to increase by 70% by 2050 to cope with population growth.

Africa, the first victim

In a report published on Wednesday (2 December), the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shared some worrying statistics. Should CO2 levels reach 850 parts per million (ppm) by 2080, in comparison to the current 400 ppm, there could be 175 million extra malnourished people. If CO2 levels rise to 550 ppm, that figure could be 60 million.

Unsurprisingly, sub-Saharan Africa would be worst hit, followed by Asia, then Latin America. This is the conclusion of the World Food Programme (WFP) which on Tuesday (1 December) released an interactive map that plots food security in relation to greenhouse gas emissions.

>>Read: Development banks urged to learn from lessons of the past

Beyond health problems, lack of food security could have disastrous geopolitical consequences, reported Elver. “There is a high correlation between agricultural import figures and potential for conflict: countries facing global warming that import are much more exposed to price volatility and are in a very dangerous position,” she explained.

A recent study carried out by the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) on Arab countries found them to be among the least self-sufficient states in the world.

Turbulent seas

Besides drought and other extreme weather events, rising sea levels pose a significant threat to agriculture. Not just in Bangladesh, which is so often referenced as an example, but in Africa too.

Faced with this threat, Teresa Anderson of the ActionAid NGO, outlined a project on Thursday (3 December) in which 4,000 hectares of coastal land in Gambia has been reclaimed from the sea via the building of a dyke. The land had become uncultivable due to the more frequent floods, which are a result of rising sea levels.

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With the support of the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the 4 kilometre long dyke has stopped the sea from reaching the farmland, and has allowed local farmers to desalinate the soil by using rainwater collected on the dyke.

The project, which cost $350,000, would be financially unrealistic for many developing countries. Anderson pointed out that the project sends a strong signal to world leaders and the COP21 summit that “funding needed for the Global South to adapt to climate change should be provided”. 

This article was also published by EURACTIV France.

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