Climate change could drive up the risk of global hunger by 20 percent by 2050 unless governments increase their efforts to help the world’s most vulnerable communities better adapt to extreme weather events, according to a new study on food security by the United Nations World Food Program, in partnership with the Swedish government.
Three years of research went into the 62-page report, released last week at the United Nations-sponsored climate talks in Bonn, Germany. The countries most vulnerable to food insecurity stretch largely across the Equator, including Sub-Saharan Africa and much of Asia, with lower levels in South and Central America.
Those that stand out include Bangladesh, where 20 to 25 percent of the country’s territory is inundated every year. In years of extreme flooding, as much as 60 percent of the country, one of the world’s poorest, is under water, destroying crops and agricultural land and increasing the incidence of malnourishment.
Asia “is particularly vulnerable to climate change, due to a combination of high reliance on climate-sensitive livelihoods, high incidence of poverty and food insecurity and high population densities in vulnerable areas exposed to climate-related hazards,” the report indicates.
Extreme weather events between2002 and 2011 cost Asians more than US$60 billion every year, the report continues. Climate related disasters in 2011 alone forced more than 10 million people out of their homes. Sea level rises, and glacier melt are increasing concerns over water stress, soil salinity and impacts on livelihoods The Philippines, a collection of more than 7,600 islands, faces higher typhoon intensity although they are expected to occur less frequently. Sea levels are expected to rise by up to 50 cm. by the end of the century, increasing the damage from storm surges as well as to coastal settlements. Parts of Luzon and Mindanao, however, are expected to face drought during the dry season and large increases of rainfall over the Visayas region. Rising sea temperatures may result in more frequent and stronger El Nino periods.
In Sri Lanka, the number of people affected by climate-related hazards is expected to climb to more than 750,000. In recent years, the northeast monsoon has been delayed or collapsed altogether, resulting in insufficient rainfall for rice production, particularly in the central and northeastern regions. Projections of sea level rise could reach one meter, with the potential to inundate the entire coastal region, increasing the risk of storm surges and salt intrusion that would affect agriculture.
Other Asian countries likely to suffer include Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Timor Lest, Nepal, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and the Kyrgyz Republic.
In the meantime, a good deal of the earth is dithering. Although 200 nations gathered in Bonn for COP23 – the 23rd United Nations-sponsored Conference of Parties on climate change – facts on the ground are discouraging. According to the climate blogger Oren Cass, global clean energy investment fell by 18 percent in 2016, the worst performance on record, while in developing countries fell by 27 percent. First-world investment in third-world countries, considered critical to global progress, fell by 26 percent.
The United States, which pulled out of the comprehensive agreement negotiated in Paris in 2016, played a less negative role than had been expected. “The U.S. was not the bomb-thrower many feared,” according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a liberal Washington, DC-based think tank. “Through two weeks of negotiations in May and now two weeks in November, the US technical team took a very cooperative approach, adding elements when it was useful and not taking highly obstructionist positions. Their focus was largely on transparency rules, which have the benefit of setting the stage for the US to re-enter in the future.
Two American political appointees – White House Adviser George D. Banks and Adviser to the Vice President Francis Brooke, were met with massive protest and a walkout by largely American youth, but the officials, according to the Brookings report, “did not lash out at the protesters or the UN process as a whole. Banks never disputed the science of climate change, but clarified that “when the president looks at the Paris Agreement and climate policies in general, he looks through the lens of what effect does this have on manufacturing and competitiveness.”
As has been widely reported, the US position isn’t as dire as it sounds. The government is locked into the climate talks until 2020 and a wide range of state, city and regional governments and private enterprise showed up at the talks, determined to take over where the Trump administration had publicly left off.
That is probably fortunate. “Climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people,” according to the UN World Food Program report. “Climate-related hazards, particularly floods, storms and droughts, are becoming more frequent and intense, land and water more scarce and difficult to access, and increases in agricultural productivity are even harder to achieve.”