Climate Change and Hunger

As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, two major issues stand out: climate change and global hunger.

5/27/20234 min read

climate change fear and hunger
climate change fear and hunger

Climate Change and Hunger: The Inextricable Link

As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, two major issues stand out: climate change and global hunger. Both are profound, complex and have far-reaching effects. But they are not separate issues. There is an inextricable link between climate change and hunger, which needs urgent attention. This article explores this critical relationship and offers insights into how our changing climate exacerbates the world's hunger crisis.

Climate Change: The Basics

Climate change refers to significant changes in global temperatures and weather patterns over time. While climate change is a natural phenomenon, scientific evidence shows that human activities, particularly the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, are significantly accelerating the rate of change. This rapid shift is causing various environmental effects, including rising temperatures, melting ice caps, and extreme weather events.

Global Hunger: A Snapshot

Global hunger refers to the chronic lack of sufficient nutritious food. According to the United Nations, nearly 690 million people, or almost 9% of the world's population, are hungry. That's nearly one in every nine people. The problem is most severe in low-income countries and regions affected by conflict, economic downturns, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Link Between Climate Change and Hunger

The connection between climate change and global hunger is multifaceted and complex. Here are some of the key ways in which climate change impacts food security:

Changing Weather Patterns: Climate change can cause extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and storms, all of which can devastate crops and livestock, disrupt food production, and lead to food shortages.

Rising Temperatures: Higher temperatures can reduce crop yields and increase water demand, making farming more challenging. Some areas may become too hot for traditional crops, forcing farmers to switch to different, possibly less nutritious or less profitable, crops.

Sea-Level Rise: Rising sea levels, a result of melting ice caps, can lead to the loss of agricultural land due to flooding and increased salinity of water and soil, which can render land unsuitable for farming.

Increased Pests and Diseases: Changes in climate can lead to an increase in pests and diseases that affect both crops and livestock, further threatening food production.

The Human Cost of Climate Change and Hunger

The impacts of climate change on hunger are not just statistical – they have profound human costs. People living in low-income countries, particularly those in rural areas who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, are most at risk. When crops fail, or livestock die due to climate-related events, these individuals and communities can fall into a cycle of food insecurity, poverty, and hunger.

Addressing the Challenge: Mitigation and Adaptation

Addressing the link between climate change and hunger requires both mitigation and adaptation strategies. Mitigation involves reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change through measures like transitioning to renewable energy, protecting forests, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

Adaptation involves making changes to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts. This includes developing drought-resistant crops, improving water management practices, and implementing early warning systems for extreme weather events.

The Urgent Need for Action

The link between climate change and hunger is clear, underscoring the urgency of addressing these twin challenges. As the climate continues to change, the impacts on global food security are expected to become even more severe. It's a grim prospect but not an inevitable one. By taking action on climate change, we can also make significant strides in the fight against global hunger.

The Multiplier Effect: How Climate Change Exacerbates Hunger

Climate change acts as a threat multiplier for hunger, undermining sustainable development and widening social inequalities. It destroys livelihoods and drives displacement, making it a key contributor to the global hunger crisis. Since the early 1990s, extreme weather-related disasters have doubled, leading to decreased harvests and increased food prices. The climate crisis fuels the hunger crisis, with millions of people going to bed hungry every night as a direct result of global warming.

The Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture and Food Production

Climate change directly impacts agriculture and food production, affecting staple crops around the world. Higher temperatures, water scarcity, droughts, floods, and greater CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have resulted in declining corn and wheat production due to extreme weather events, plant diseases, and a global water crisis.

Areas like Africa’s Sahel attribute 80% of the causes behind an unpredictable cereal crop harvest to climate variability. In coastal areas like Bangladesh and Vietnam, rising sea levels pose a threat to food security as coastal farmlands are often flooded by saltwater, killing off rice crops.

Limiting Access to Food: The Ripple Effects of Climate Change

The reduction in the amount of food produced by climate change subsequently reduces the amount of food people can access. Interruptions to the food system due to a climate event can lead to inflation, leaving the poorest families most vulnerable. One study shows that people living in urban areas under the poverty line spend up to 75% of their budget on food alone.

In many of the world's hungriest countries that rely on agriculture as their main industry, families eat seasonally. Climate change has prolonged the “hungry seasons,” the times before harvest when the previous supply of food has been used up. The next crops are not quite ready to pick.

Climate Change and the Nutritional Value of Food

Climate change affects not only the quantity of food but also its quality. Higher carbon dioxide concentrations in plants reduce their protein, zinc, and iron content. By 2050, an estimated 175 million people could develop zinc deficiencies, and 122 million people may be protein-deficient. Climate extremes also threaten livestock and fish populations, further reducing the nutritional value of food available.

Food Waste in a Changing Climate

Climate change also contributes to increased food waste. Crops grown in high-drought areas, when moved into humid storage facilities, are vulnerable to fungal infestations and pests. Likewise, flooding from extreme rainfalls can produce toxic mold on crops. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly one-third of the food produced by farmers is lost between the field and the market in low- and middle-income countries, further exacerbating the hunger crisis.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Climate Change and Hunger

The impacts of climate change on the global food system disproportionately affect those who already suffer from hunger and undernutrition, making them the most vulnerable. It is thus imperative that global efforts to combat climate change are closely tied to those aimed at reducing hunger.