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Publication | 29 November 2018

Food security and climate change

Global Food and Nutrition Security

With many of the resources needed for sustainable food security already stretched, the food security challenges are huge. Climate change will make it even harder to overcome them, as it reduces the productivity of the majority of existing food systems and harms the livelihoods of those already vulnerable to food insecurity. The likelihood of the nations of the world being able to meet the 2°C target of maximal average temperature rise set by the UNFCCC negotiations in Cancun is diminishing with time. If negotiations for global climate policies fail, temperature rises of the order of 4°C by the end of the century, corresponding to the best estimate of the higher emissions scenarios of the IPCC, cannot be discarded. While some might benefit, people in some regions will be affected more than others by changes in average temperature and precipitation. In addition, the likelihood of increased variability and extreme events means that management of risk, both locally and internationally, will be even more important than it is today.

Population growth will continue through 2050 and be accompanied by unprecedented rates of urbanization. These changes will take place mostly in today’s developing countries, many of whom will very likely achieve middle-income status. The outcome will be rapid growth in demand for food, both in quantity and quality. Government policies to raise the share of biofuels in energy consumption increase the challenges to our collective ability to achieve sustainable food security.

Contemporary climate change is a consequence of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities. According to the IPCC, most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations. Agricultural activities including indirect effects through deforestation and other forms of land conversion account for about one third of total global warming potential from GHG emissions today so reducing the direct and indirect emissions from agriculture is an essential part of the larger effort to slow the pace of climate change.