Food security and climate change

Dr Jonathan Chenoweth summarises the discussions at one of the COP21 side-events considering food security. Find out more about what CES is doing at COP21.


Representatives from 190 countries are busy here at COP21 trying to develop an agreement to prevent catastrophic climate change from occurring; however global climate change has already been happening: temperatures have already risen and weather patterns have already changed and will go on changing. These changes are impacting upon many of the world’s poorest people – people living in rural areas in developing countries who are heavily dependent upon the conditions of their local environment for their food and livelihoods. These same people who risk suffering some of the worst and most immediate effects of climate change however contributed the least to its causes. Most greenhouse gas emissions do not come from poor farmers but from people in wealthy countries.

This afternoon I attended a fascinating side event at COP21 which discussed what can and what needs to be done about food security under climate change. The session was chaired by the UN World Food Programme with input from some high level representatives, such as the Deputy Director of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Minister for Food and Agriculture of Guatemala, the Director of Policy and Operations of the Global Environment Facility and others. These delegates made some really important points about food security and climate change.

It was pointed out that much of the attention and resources for dealing with climate change so far have been about mitigation but climate change is already happening. Since climate change is already happening, far more resources are now needed to deal with adaptation to climate change. Better resilience to the effects of climate change is needed and this is what the international community needs to focus upon also. 800 million people still suffer from malnutrition, with poverty, hunger and climate change adaptation needing to be addressed together. It is small farmers in many developing countries which produce most of the food in those countries but these farmers do not have a place at the negotiating table although agricultural issues are increasingly being considered in climate change discussions.

While it was a bit depressing to hear about the scale of the challenges human society faces to deal with global food security, some initiatives that were outlined sounded positive. One delegate argued that development should not be seen to only occur between disaster events, impeding development, but development can occur through disasters. Disasters can be an opportunity to build increased resilience into the recovery process.

One of the key points which came out of this session towards the end was the need for cross sectorial thinking. Projects need to address more than just the impacts of climate change but also deal with the other interrelated problems that societies face. Evidence based approaches are needed – based upon good data and research. Silos need to be broken down and cross disciplinary research and policy development is needed. To me this sounded like a call for the implementation of sustainable development as a key means for adapting to climate change. Let’s hope sustainable development is achievable.