Food is life in a changing climate

Food & climate change article written on the 21 Nov 2011

Growing up with two younger sisters and two older brothers, meal times in my family were a hive of activity. Almost daily, we would fight it out over a solitary Anzac biscuit, the prized prawn at a family bbq or the last scoop of home-brand vanilla ice cream on a hot summer’s day. As a middle class family of seven, we never went hungry.

Today, one in seven people on our planet are going to bed hungry every night. That’s more than a billion people.

In Africa, where this year’s UN Climate Change Negotiations are taking place, many people, especially women, rely on being able to grow their own food to survive. But the changing weather patterns are having a devastating impact on their crops.

Globally, climate change is affecting food production in two main ways.

Firstly, more frequent and intense extreme weather events have the potential to wipe out whole crop yields. The IPCC report ‘Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ released over the weekend highlights the link between extreme weather and global warming. Whilst we can never say that a particular flood, bushfire or cyclone was caused by purely by climate change, the IPCC report does show that increases and intensification of extreme weather are likely to occur in the future as a result of climate change.

Secondly, changes in rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures are making it harder for people to know when to sow, grow and cultivate crops. Research shows that the production of corn in South Africa could plummet by up to 35% in 20 years.

In East Africa, around 13 million people are already facing desperate food shortages following the worst drought in 60 years. Rains have failed for successive seasons, and families across large parts of Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to find enough to eat or drink. Cattle and other livestock have died in their hundreds of thousands, and food prices have rocketed.

The price of food in Africa, already at all time highs is set to rise if climate change isn’t addressed. In September 2010, a jump in the price of bread and other goods sparked three days of protests on the streets of Mozambique’s capital Maputo.

At this year’s UN Climate Change Negotiations in Durban, wealthy countries including Australia need to ensure progress is made in order to support poor countries avoid the worst impacts of climate change. As the recent International Energy Authority report highlights, the world is currently slipping off the path to meet the below 2 degree target set at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen two years ago. This means wealthy developed countries must take action to reduce carbon emissions to levels that are based on science.

The world also needs to make further progress on how to assist poor people, particularly food producers, deal with the impacts of climate change through the Green Climate Fund.

At Durban, I will be shining a torch on the role of the Australian Government and reporting back via videos, blogs and social media on what’s taking place, who’s saying what and what needs to happen.

You can stay up to date and become a UN Climate Tracker and help influence the climate negotiations from your computer.

Clancy Moore is blogging from this year’s UN Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa (November 28th – December 9th) as part of Oxfam’s UN Climate Tracker project