The Global South experiences a disproportionate impact of climate change which in turn leads to food insecurity
This piece is part of the series, Common But Differentiated Responsibility: Finding Direction In COP27
The largest food crisis in recent history is currently affecting the entire world. Unless immediate action is taken to address the drivers of this crisis such as the conflicts, climate shocks, and the possibility of a global recession, millions of people are at risk of hunger. The interaction of these factors is making life harder for the most vulnerable people on Earth and rolling back previous development advancements. Globally, about 828 million people face hunger. Since 2019, the number of people experiencing severe food insecurity has increased from 135 million to 345 million. A total of 49 million people in 49 different nations are on the verge of going hungry.
Increasing food commodity prices played a significant role in driving an extra 30 million people in low-income nations into food insecurity.
Conflict remains the main cause of hunger, as 60 percent of the hungry in the globe reside in violent and war-torn regions. The Ukraine conflict is yet another example of how armed conflict exacerbates hunger by driving people from their homes and destroying their means of income. Climate shocks also harm people’s ability to feed themselves by destroying lives, crops, and livelihoods. There is an area of the world known as the“Ring of fire”” where conflict and climate shocks are pushing millions of people to the verge of starvation. It extends from the Central American Dry Corridor and Haiti to the Sahel, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Horn of Africa, Syria, Yemen, all the way to Afghanistan. Hunger is at an all-time high due to the financial effects of the COVID-19 epidemic. In 2021, increasing food commodity prices played a significant role in driving an extra 30 million people in low-income nations into food insecurity. In addition, a is related to the way food is frequently produced today. A 2021 estimate places the global agricultural system’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions at approximately one-third, making it the second-largest source of methane and biodiversity loss after the energy industry.
Around 80 percent of the world’s population lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, where farming households are disproportionately poor and vulnerable. These regions are particularly at risk of crop failures and famine brought on by climate change. Millions more may fall into poverty as a result of a catastrophic drought due to an El Niño weather pattern. Even in countries with relatively high incomes, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, El Niño threatens poverty reduction and food security with loss in GDP, consumption and income in households. Climate change will progressively have a negative impact on agricultural production in regions of the world that already have limited water resources due to decreased water availability, an increase in extreme weather events such as floods and severe storms, heat stress, and an increase in pests and diseases.
Around the world, staple crops are impacted by rising temperatures, water shortages, droughts, floods, and higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Extreme weather conditions, plant diseases, and a global water problem have all contributed to a fall in corn and wheat productivity in recent years. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 80 percent of the reasons why cereal crops in places like Africa’s Sahel endure erratic harvests are due to climate variability. A different challenge to food security is posed by increasing sea levels in countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. Even the slightest inundation can have significant effects because the Mekong Delta, is where half of Vietnam’s country’s rice production is concentrated.
Climate change will progressively have a negative impact on agricultural production in regions of the world that already have limited water resources due to decreased water availability, an increase in extreme weather events such as floods and severe storms, heat stress, and an increase in pests and diseases.
Given that there is less food produced, it stands to reason that there is less food available to humans as a result of climate change. However, this straightforward example of supply and demand has significant effects. Inflation may occur if a climate event (large or small) disrupts one aspect of the food system. Since COVID-19 caused the suspension of foreign trade, we have witnessed such a disruption over the past two years. Urban households spend, on average, more than 50 percent of their income on food, and in the poorest nations, up to 75 percent, according to a study of 20 low- and middle-income countries. Due to this reliance on cash for food, consistent income and food affordability are the two key factors influencing access to healthy diets and food security in urban environments.
Both quantity and quality factors affected by climate change can play a role in hunger and malnutrition. According to studies, plants with higher CO2 levels had lower levels of protein, zinc, and iron. An estimated 175 million people could experience zinc deficiency by 2050 and 122 million individuals may also be protein-deficient because of it. Beyond the quality of plant-based nutrition, climate change also has an impact on animals, which consume, grow, and produce meat, eggs, and/or milk using the same resources as humans. Of all drought-related losses, cattle, goats, and other livestock make up 36 percent while crops account for the remaining 49 percent. Similarly, fish populations are at risk from climate extremes, particularly in places like Southeast Asia.
In low- and middle-income nations, nearly one-third of the food produced by farmers is wasted between the farm and the market, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The quantity wasted between the market and the table is comparable to high-income countries. The food system currently accounts for 21-37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, food losses contribute to climate catastrophe and food insecurity.
Beyond the quality of plant-based nutrition, climate change also has an impact on animals, which consume, grow, and produce meat, eggs, and/or milk using the same resources as humans.
With decreasing crop yields, particularly in the world’s most food-insecure countries, more people will be pushed into poverty. It is predicted that by 2030, 43 million people in Africa alone will live in poverty. The effects of climate change on the world food system make people who already struggle with hunger and malnutrition more susceptible to further losses as the situation intensifies. We need to address the causes of climate change, especially at the political and policy levels, to achieve Sustainable Development Goals on ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. Also to help the areas most affected by the crisis—areas that emit relatively lesser greenhouse gas—we need to accord climate justice top priority.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).