Tackling climate change from different angles

gadisymposium2014_625x333With the recent release of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, climate change has been a familiar topic in the news and media. More recently new publications have explicitly linked climate change to food security and they show that there is much to be done by governments, big business and the public sector, if our food and agricultural systems are to be resilient to predicted changes in the climate.

A new report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Weather Volatility and Climate Change, which builds on the IPCC report, explains how climate change will undermine efforts to tackle hunger, limiting food production and putting food supplies at risk. Higher temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and more frequent and severe natural disasters could reduce food production growth by 2% each decade for the rest of this century.  But, the report says, US government action can curb the risks climate change poses to global food security by integrating climate change adaptation into its global food security strategy. Recommendations include:

  • Passing legislation for a long-term global food and nutrition security strategy.
  • Increasing funding for agricultural research on climate change adaptation.  Research priorities should include improving crop and livestock tolerance to higher temperatures and volatile weather, combating pests and disease and reducing food waste.
  • Collecting better data and making information on weather more widely available to farmers.  There are significant global data gaps right now on weather; water availability, quality and future requirements; crop performance; land use; and consumer preferences.
  • Increasing funding for partnerships between U.S. universities and universities and research institutions in low-income countries, to train the next generation of agricultural leaders.
  • Advancing international action through urging that food security be addressed through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Not only does the US, and other countries, have much to gain from maintaining and improving agricultural productivity and strong, stable international commodity markets but it is imperative they tackle climate change, in particular with a focus on adaptation, as part of their commitment to food and nutrition security. As Ambassador Ivo H. Daalder, president of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated, “For the first time since the Green Revolution, empowering the world’s poorest to improve their livelihoods is a high priority on the international agenda. But climate change puts the success of these efforts at risk.”

The report makes the link that the effects of climate change in reducing global food security and availability puts countries, developed and developing alike, at great risk in terms of national security and economic prosperity.

Yesterday, more than 500 policymakers, corporate executives, scientists, and senior leaders from international and nongovernmental organizations gathered to discuss the report, Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate (PDF), at the Council’s Global Food Security Symposium 2014 in Washington DC. Find out more about the presentations here.

A new Oxfam report shows it’s not just governments that need to consider climate change. The world’s biggest food producers and food brands need to do a lot more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s largest ten food and beverage companies have been linked to an estimated 264 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2012, this is more than the emissions of Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined. If the group of companies were a nation, it would be the 25th most polluting country in the world.

While such firms have targets to reduce their operating emissions such as reducing energy use, they fail to tackle the emissions originating from the production of agricultural commodities, around half of the total emissions. Oxfam states these companies have a moral obligation to increase efforts to tackle climate change but it also makes good business sense. Consequences of inaction could include rising food prices and increased production costs. Research from Oxfam estimates that climate change will increase the retail of prices of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes by as much as 44% over the next 15 years. The financial costs of climate change’s impact on food production are already being felt by companies. In March, General Mills’ CEO said extreme weather had reduced sales and cost the company 62 days of production over three months. Unilever says it loses around $415 million a year due to extreme events such as flooding and extreme cold.

Oxfam’s report calls on the “big 10” – Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – to set emissions reductions targets across their whole scale of influence, beyond their own operations. While some report their indirect emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project, are pursuing more sustainable palm oil purchasing and have ambitions to reduce agricultural emissions, much more needs to be done to work along the whole value chain, introducing more sustainable, climate-smart farming practices and avoiding land-clearing. If all ten cut carbon emissions by 50% over five years, they would cut combined emissions from agriculture by 80 million tonnes by 2020 – the equivalent of taking all cars off the road in Los Angeles, Beijing, London and New York.

The research was issued as part of Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign, which advocates for the world’s top food and drinks companies to strengthen their social and environmental policies, scoring them on their social and environmental impact. Such companies have the power and resources to drive transformation of the food system.

While the private sector has a large role to play in tackling climate change and making agriculture more sustainable, to date this agenda has largely been driven by the public sector and civil society, including organisations such as CGIAR and the UN.

A recent conference in Ethiopia, attended by Agriculture for Impact, held by the International Food Policy Research Institute, offered new research and commitments for building resilience in global food systems, including helping people and farms cope with shocks and stresses as expected under a changing climate. Without building resilience in our agricultural systems it is unlikely a post-2015 development goal of ending hunger by 2025 will succeed. For more information, including the conference papers, remarks, and videos, visit the conference website.

The CGIAR’s research programme on Climate Change and Food Security (CCAFS) has since 2009, sought to overcome, through a strategic collaboration between CGIAR and Future Earth, the threats to agriculture and food security under climate change, particularly those faced by vulnerable rural communities. In their 2013 Annual report, Advancing Climate-Smart Agriculture, they reflect on their research towards the goal of achieving food security, reducing rural poverty, improving health and nutrition, and sustainably managing our natural resources in the face of climate change.

In the past year, CCAFS and its many partners have helped advance climate-smart agriculture in twenty countries around the world, though close collaborations with farmers, civil society, governments and researchers. For example, working with the World Agroforestry Centre to adopt climate-smart agriculture in the East African Dairy Development programme, empowering women in Nepal and India to manage climate risks and working with the Chinese government, private sector and livestock herders to develop a method for cost effectively accounting and monitoring carbon sequestration in grasslands. They focus on policy engagement, developing innovative partnerships and collaborations and capacity building, to try to combat the impacts of climate change. Read more about their work on climate-smart agriculture here.

Climate-smart agriculture, as defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, is about pursuing three aims:

  • sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes;
  • adapting and building resilience to climate change; and
  • reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible.

The FAO publication, Climate-Smart Agriculture – Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation and Mitigation, explains that climate-smart agriculture is designed to identify and implement sustainable agricultural development with the explicit goal of adapting to and mitigating climate change. The report outlines climate-smart technology options and the enabling environment required for their adoption and uptake.

More recently, at the Forests Asia Summit in Jakarta, Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlined the role the agriculture and forestry sectors play in climate change mitigation, calling for action ahead of the next round of negotiations on a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors account for about 24% of the total emissions of greenhouse gases. While needed emissions reductions are estimated to cause losses in consumption per year globally of less than 0.06% of global GDP, the private sector appears to be waiting for better investment models and policy support before financing mitigation activities. To see more of this discussion click here.

Climate-smart agriculture, the impact of climate change on efforts to reduce hunger and the role agriculture can take in mitigating climate change are all being discussed. As said, negotiations around a climate change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol are underway and, in preparation for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2014, the Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture- Global Conference is to take place in the Netherlands in July. While there’s hope that the negotiations will lead to meaningful and impactful outcomes, there is still much that governments, the private sector and civil society can do, many of these actions protecting future food supply but also safeguarding the economy and profits.


  1. […] challenge is not just to create a more productive, climate resilient agriculture sector but also to ensure that all of our food is produced in a way that reduces […]

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