The “unprecedented” impact of climate change is increasingly putting the world’s food security at risk, a new United Nations (UN) study by 107 scientists reveals.
The 1200-page special report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that more than 500 million people are living in areas affected by desertification, and are being negatively affected by the climate crisis, driving mass migration.
As well as increasing migration, climate change also fuels conflict as resources become scarce and regions become uninhabitable. Humans, like any other animal, have three choices when their food or water runs out: Starve, kill, or migrate.
July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded. All-time high records were shattered in France, Germany, and across northern Europe during a severe heatwave. Droughts in Central America have contributed to widespread hunger due to crop shortages.
The report highlights that climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).
IPCC tells how the rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil, jeopardizes food security for the planet. Humans affect more than 70 per cent of ice-free land and a quarter is already degraded. This soil degradation has a direct impact on the amount of carbon the earth is able to contain.
Limiting global warming to 1.5 or even two degrees (Celsius) will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and land has a critical role to play in carbon dioxide removal. One way to cope with this challenge, the report suggests, is to improve the way we produce and consume food, noting that almost a third of all food produced, is simply lost or wasted. Agricultural practices can help build up carbon in soils, but it could also mean using more bio-energy with or without carbon capture and storage and expanding forests.
But there are limits to the scale of energy crops and afforestation that could be used, and these measures alone will not solve climate change. As individuals, we need to look at our diets, what are we eating, what are we wasting, what could we go without?
A waste-limiting, plant-based diet is recommended by climate change experts. Those not wishing to change their eating habits shun and even mock the idea of veganism, and instead point to other harmful practices such as choosing high polluting personal vehicles over public transport, or taking international flights, or having large families as the root cause of climate change. But the truth is that we need to change more than one thing to undo the damage already wreaked, and only a combination of solutions will meet this environmental, and now international security, crisis head on.
The days of climate change being a purely environmental concern are long gone. With the effects constantly – and increasingly – driving mass migration and conflict, it is time to put away any misconceptions and stereotypes. Climate change is as much a concern for today’s border guards as it was for the hippie movement of the 1960s.
Crucially, it comes down to a matter of will. Are individuals willing to make changes to their lives to confront climate change? Some are, but many are not. And then there is the issue of political will. The Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community have explicitly acknowledged the direct impacts of climate change on national security. But where is the leadership who will stand up and set policy? This is by no means a problem for the United States alone. Yes, President Trump has been widely reported as a climate sceptic; yes, some of his administration’s policies can be seen as anti-environment, but he is not alone. Even those world leaders who claim to put climate change at the forefront of their political agendas are mostly only paying lip service to the problem. Restricting the number of children citizens can have, or telling them what to eat, or how to travel, would all be beneficial to environmental security, but they are not vote-winning policies.
The United States has by far the largest consumer market in the world, great for the economy but there is no economy without an environment and when a strong economy begins to be detrimental to national security, action is required. So while we wait for strong leadership in this area, we can all “do our bit” by reducing our own impact.