We all are drivers of (climate) change

15 April, 2014 by (comments)


Has the tone changed in discussions about our climate?

That of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on 31 March certainly has. While the IPCC has repeatedly warned us about the risks related to climate change, this time around, the message sounds particularly urgent.

The report confirms that human activities are responsible for changes occurring in the global climate, and that its impacts are serious and are happening now. It tells us how those are affecting ecosystems, the economy, and people’s livelihoods – including effects on activities and sectors on which we all depend, such as water, energy, food, and health.

The degree of scientific consensus about how greenhouse gases from human activities are already affecting food and farming, and on how the situation could rapidly worsen over the next few decades, is unprecedented. The report even sounds the alarm about “the breakdown of food systems, linked to warming.”

In her analysis of the IPCC’s findings, Sonja Vermeulen, head of research for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), notes that the growing consensus on the impact of climate change on food security should accelerate the expansion of proven adaptation strategies and new programs.

Switching varieties, for example, gives a median benefit of 23%, compared to 3% for optimizing irrigation and 1% for increasing fertilizer use. This suggests that genebanks and breeding of heat- and drought-tolerant varieties are priorities for adaptation investments in agriculture.

“We need to see an increase in public investments, and also a more creative use of private capital and insurance products that can help farmers and vulnerable communities prepare for a future that is likely to feature more frequent encounters with weather extremes,” Vermeulen said.

Tropical areas, which are most exposed to increased climate risks and are also home to a large proportion of the world’s food-insecure people, are admittedly particularly vulnerable.

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In an editorial for El Espectador, a national Colombian newspaper, Andy Jarvis, director of policy research at CIAT and leader for climate change adaptation with CCAFS, warns that, while the demand for food will swell by a staggering 50 to 80% by 2050 under the influence of population growth and increased per-capita consumption, the productivity of major crops like maize, rice, and wheat is expected to decrease by 25% or more in tropical regions during this century.

“The life of farmers will be miserable, and food prices for urban populations will soar,” Jarvis said. “Unfortunately few countries are ready to take action to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, because the investments are considerable and may constrain their economic development.”

But Colombia, for example, knows that a timely response to climate change can turn the threat into an opportunity, and make its economy stronger and less volatile. The country is leading the way to the agriculture of the future by making the whole sector “climate-smart” –  i.e., with low emissions and adapted to a changing climate. New varieties that are better adapted to extreme weather are being introduced. Farmers are also learning how to use climate data and scenarios, and are introducing more sustainable farming practices that reduce the water and carbon footprint of their produce.

“As a global community, as a society, as nations, and as persons, we should all be concerned. We are all victims of climate change, but we are drivers too,” Jarvis added. “I invite you to think about the degree on which your life depends on a healthy climate, from the water for your shower to the food on your plate.”

Climate change impacts on food security are happening now. But will the IPCC report convince decision and policy makers to take the necessary bold actions?


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