Opinion: Climate Action is the Fight for Food Security

On Nov. 11, 2013, Naderev ‘Yeb” Sano, the Philippine envoy to climate talks in Warsaw, broke down in tears over the devastation visited on his country that week by Super Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Yolanda, one of the strongest storms to make landfall in recorded history, killing at least 6,300 people, most of them in the city of Tacloban, where his family lived.

Sano’s dramatic and emotional appeal to take definitive action to ameliorate climate change before it was too late for his country was met with a standing ovation at the start of two-week talks in Warsaw where more than 190 countries sought to lay the groundwork for a new pact to fight global warming. But a year and a half later, the situation has changed little. Delegations from parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are due to gather next week in Bonn, Germany in preliminary talks before the full-blown Paris climate talks in December, the last chance for concrete commitments from parties after the failed Copenhagen talks in December in 2009.

The Paris negotiations are unfolding against a backdrop of extreme drought in Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines, partly from the onset of the El Nino cyclical climate phenomenon but also almost certainly also affected by global warming. The region is considered the food basket of the country and is home to 40 percent of the Filipino food supply. Recently, no less than the Ministry of Agriculture said in a prepared statement that they are “putting policy initiatives and concrete action to soften the effects of this dry weather.” The Philippines’ state weather bureau has predicted that the prolonged season of drought will last well into this year if not beyond.

Slow-onset impacts and theirs long-term effects

In an island country which is more exposed than most to extreme weather events like Haiyan/Yolanda, there is danger in looking only at the other half of how climate change is slowly posing a threat to our people. Slow-onset impacts characterized by prolonged drought, increasing precipitation, sea level rise and changes in ocean temperature are not so evident although they are inexorably causing threat to the Philippines' natural resources, wreaking an adverse impact on food and water security.

The recent study released by the Institute of Climate Studies (ICSC) and the international organization Christian Aid titled “SOI: Slow Onset Climate Change Impacts: What it is, when should we care, and what we can do about it” looks at the concrete effects of slow-onset impacts in various communities in the Philippines. According to the study, “food security is not only the most felt of slow onset impacts but it is the most dangerous as well.”

The report also sounded the alarm on the Philippines’ ranking as the world’s fifth most vulnerable country in terms of forecast sea level rise. This can cause damage to coastal fisheries, direct loss of cultivable lands due to saltwater inundation, and salinization of water resources.

"Slow onset impacts of climate change put food security at risk and will eventually cause the breakdown of food systems that are effects of warming, drought, flooding and precipitation variability and extremes," the report concluded. It will have effects on the livelihoods of the world's food producers - agriculture, fisheries and farming sector.

Hotter and hungrier world

Extreme drought as a manifestation of slow-onset impacts is a concrete example of the situation of food producers in Mindanao. In a visit last year in Sultan Kudarat and Koronadal, two provinces located in the region, I met vegetable and rice farmers who have been literally been feeling the heat of climate change. Over the last few years, these farmers have already learned to adapt to the impact of climate change by practicing crop diversification.

However, food producers will also need the support of the Philippine government’s implementation and operationalization of policies from the national down to the local level. The government must ensure that policies will be implemented to aid the food producing sector. The country's Ministry of Agriculture must push for climate adaptation mechanisms like climate resiliency field schools, localized weather information system to better aid agricultural yields and weather-based insurance index, a loss and damage mechanism in anticipation of extreme weather events like Haiyan in 2013 and El Nino.

At the global level, developed countries led by the G7 nations must commit to pouring finances into the Green Climate Fund and help the countries who are in dire need of this aid. The so-called “loss and damage” mechanism must be fully asserted in the draft text as negotiators enter into the Bonn intersession this week.

Developed countries that are the biggest carbon emitters must take responsibility and help developing countries adapt to impacts of climate change especially those which rely in agriculture as the main source of income for the country.

The next six months leading to the Paris climate talks are crucial. Negotiators cannot afford to fail this time. We do not want a repeat of what happened in Copenhagen in 2009. Climate change is already being felt not only in the environment but also in the most necessary facets of our lives like food, properties and lives.

The path towards low-carbon development with a consideration for the countries that are the most vulnerable to impacts of a changing climate must be laid down in Bonn this week.

Together, we can win the fight against climate change, which inevitably will cause growing starvation people hungry. As we gravitate towards the Paris talks in December, let’s stay the course. Otherwise, Sano’s tears are in vain.

Jed Alegado is a climate justice activist based in the Philippines. He holds a masters degree in public management from the Ateneo School of Government.