The impact of Climate on Food Security and Nutrition
New evidence continues to signal that the number of hungry people in the world is growing, reaching 821 million in 2017 or one in every nine people, according to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018” released on 11 Sept.2018. Limited progress is also being made in addressing the multiple forms of malnutrition, ranging from child stunting to adult obesity, putting the health of hundreds of millions of people at risk.
As shown in Part 1 of this report, the number of people who suffer from hunger has been growing over the past three years, returning to levels that prevailed almost a decade ago. Equally of concern is that 22.2 percent of children under five are affected by stunting in 2017.
Last year this report observed that three factors are behind the recent trends affecting food security and nutrition in multiple ways and
challenging people’s access to food: conflict, climate and economic slowdowns. After an in-depth study of the role of conflict in the 2017
report, this part of the 2018 report focuses on the role of climate – more specifically, climate variability and extremes.
Climate change takes place over a period of decades or centuries. There are also shorter-term climate variations (e.g. in temperature and rainfall) and extremes (leading to drought, floods, storms, etc.) associated with periodic or intermittent changes related to different natural phenomena (such as El Niño, La Niña, volcanic eruptions or other changes in earth systems). However, these shorter-term climate variations are not all attributable to climate change.
In any case, the attribution of climate variations and extremes to climate change is beyond the scope of this report. The focus on climate variations and extremes is prompted by three considerations. First, the number of extreme events, including extreme heat, droughts, floods and storms, has doubled since the early 1990s, with an average of 213 of these events occurring every year during the period of 1990–2016.
Second, while climate change occurs over a period of decades or centuries, what people experience in their daily life is climate variability and climate extremes, regardless of whether or not these are driven by climate change. Third, unsurprisingly, all dimensions of food security and nutrition, including food availability, access, utilization and stability, are potentially affected even in the short term by climate variability and climate extremes.
Changes in climate are already undermining production of major crops (wheat, rice and maize) in tropical and temperate regions and, without adaptation, this is expected to worsen as temperatures increase and become more extreme. Climate-related disasters have come to
dominate the risk landscape to the point where they now account for more than 80 percent of all major internationally reported disasters. Of all natural hazards, floods, droughts and tropical storms affect food production the most. Drought in particular causes more than 80 percent of the total damage and losses in agriculture, especially for the livestock and crop production subsectors. In relation to extreme events, the fisheries subsector is most affected by tsunamis and storms, while most of the economic impact on forestry is caused by floods and storms.
New information from country food balance sheets points to reductions in food availability and price increases in regions affected by the El Niño phenomenon in 2015–16. This event resulted in large climatic deviations and anomalies compared to historical norms, which were experienced in different ways and to varying degrees of intensity in various parts of the world. In some areas, severe drought conditions have resulted from the El Niño phenomenon, particularly in regions where many low- and middle-income countries are situated.
While hunger is on the rise, it is equally alarming that the number of people facing crisis-level food insecurity continues to increase. In 2017, almost 124 million people across 51 countries and
territories faced “crisis”61 levels of acute food insecurity or worse, requiring immediate emergency action to safeguard their lives and preserve their livelihoods. 62 This represents an increase compared to 2015 and 2016, when 80 and 108 million people, respectively, were reported as facing crisis levels. As with increased levels of hunger, major contributors to crisis-level food insecurity are climate-related, in particular droughts. Moreover, climate variability and extremes are also contributing to the alarming levels of malnutrition.
The 2030 Agenda: advancing progress through strengthened resilience and adaptive capacity in response to natural hazards and climate-related disasters
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development makes an explicit link between sustainable development and climate action. Through SDG13, the 2030 Agenda calls for strengthened resilience and adaptive capacity in response to natural hazards and climate-related disasters in all countries. 63 It also calls on all countries to establish and operationalize an integrated strategy – one that includes food security and nutrition – to improve their ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, and to foster climate resilience and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions without jeopardizing food production.
Agricultural production and food systems are major sources of GHG emissions and are particularly sensitive to climate. These systems need to be a priority for climate change adaptation and mitigation action. The challenge is to increase agricultural production in ways
that are both more sustainable (for example, through enabling sustainable healthy diets) and more climate-resilient, while at the same time reducing emissions.
Addressing climate variability and extremes and their impact on food security and nutrition requires cross-sectoral action with stakeholder
engagement at all levels. A challenge is that existing global policy strategies are compartmentalized into several dialogues: climate change, governed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 2015 Paris Agreement; disaster risk reduction, under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction;
and the humanitarian–development nexus and resilience building, broadly addressed in the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and subsequent discussions.
At the same time, nutrition, health and the links between them – which are all impacted by climate variability and extremes – are addressed in the outcome documents of the second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), where countries recognized the need to act. The
Work Programme of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition provides a framework for helping countries to implement relevant commitments and recommendations.
Similarly, these global policy dialogues are elaborated in a number of national action plans related to climate change, disaster risk reduction and resilience and nutrition. These include National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), Health National Adaptation Plans (HNAPs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which guide national climate change adaptation and mitigation action. The HNAPs usually include food and nutrition security.
All these policy dialogues and action plans aim to achieve the overarching goal of sustainable development that is embodied in the 2030 Agenda. The challenge is to use policy and cross sectoral strategies to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacities to climate variability and extremes (SDG13). Meeting this challenge through integrated solutions is absolutely necessary to end extreme poverty and hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and make agriculture sustainable (SDGs 1 and 2).
The importance of changing climate variability and extremes to agriculture, food security and nutrition
There is strong evidence of global climate change in the form of rising air and sea surface temperatures, receding glaciers, shifting climate regimes, increasing frequency and intensity of extreme events and sea level rises. The accelerated warming of the planet continues to
lead to modified ecosystem processes, changing climate variability and more intense climate-related events across the globe, including extreme temperatures (cold and hot spells) and variations in rainfall (floods and droughts).
However, as noted, not all types of climate and temperature extremes are easily attributable to climate change. For example, droughts are sometimes difficult to connect to warming trends because they are influenced by a complex interplay of temperature, precipitation and soil moisture, with precipitation in particular exhibiting high natural variability. Hurricanes and typhoons are more difficult still, largely as they occur so rarely, and their dynamics are so complex. What is clear is that people are experiencing climate variability and extremes in
their daily lives.