Climate and food are at risk, and so are we

Climate change is the biggest threat to the future of our planet, and mankind is exacerbating the conditions. Other upheavals that have emerged recently are doing great damage to the struggle for human existence as well. In addition to climate change, the global crisis of food insecurity and hunger is expected to gradually worsen.

The solution to the global problem of hunger depends, as in all other cases, on eliminating the causes. Among the main causes are climate change and drought due to global warming, which requires a collective effort at the international level. Internal conflicts, interstate wars, waste of resources and protectionism are among the sources of food insecurity.

If global temperatures continue to rise; Risks such as changes in rainfall patterns, increased drought and frequency of heat waves, sea level rise, melting glaciers and increased risk of severe natural disasters will arise. This will not only cause physical damage, but also negatively affect food systems and harm development processes around the world.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), food supply and food safety will be seriously threatened if adequate action is not taken regarding the food system’s exposure to climate change over the next 30 years.

As a matter of fact, the negative effects of climate change on food production and quality have already been shown. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that productivity in the food industry is 21% lower due to global warming; High temperatures and heavy rains are detrimental to the health of the soil; Increased levels of carbon dioxide reduce the nutritional quality of crops.

In particular, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that staple foods such as soybeans, wheat and rice will decline throughout the 21st century, with a decline of 0.7%-3.3% per decade. In addition to these numbers, it is calculated that the yield of rice, maize and wheat may decrease by 10%-25% for each degree of increase in global temperature. At this point, it is worth remembering that the figures in question do not take into account other critical variables, such as soil quality degradation other than reduced yields, which could cause much larger impacts in the long run. Given that more than 80% of the calories consumed worldwide come from 10 crops, especially rice and corn, we can understand just how dangerous we are.

Another frightening finding of the analysis is that these risks increase the risk of simultaneous crop losses in countries that are major food producers. Undoubtedly, this situation makes food security an issue that requires study and urgent action by all countries on a global scale. According to the forecasts made in this regard, if current conditions and policies continue, the number of people at risk of hunger, which stands at 8 million on a global scale today, is expected to reach 80 million by 2050. This picture reminds us that all countries must Addressing the agro-food dimension of the climate crisis.

The severe impact of war

On the other hand, in addition to the difficulty of dealing with the climate crisis, the shock wave caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war shows how vulnerable the global food chain is to climate change and other disruptions. In order to understand the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, it is important to look at the placement of both countries in the global food value chain. Ukraine and Russia produce nearly 60% of the world’s sunflower seeds and seeds, and are responsible for about 30% of the global wheat and barley market.

According to recent research published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 50 countries in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia buy at least 30% of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine. Besides, 26 countries among these regions meet more than half of their wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine. The FAO analysis also estimates that the war alone will result in 7.6 million malnourished people in addition to the current number globally in the short term as a result of higher prices for products exported by Russia and Ukraine, while in the long term, this number may reach 8.1 million.

The food price index published by the Food and Agriculture Organization in April is also remarkable. It stated that food prices rose by 34% over the same period last year, breaking a record for the third year in a row. If the war continues, the picture is expected to become even more frightening. In this context, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describes the current period as a cyclone of hunger and the collapse of the global food system. The World Food Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who shared their forecasts for the current situation, calculated that at least 45% of the Ukrainian population is facing food insecurity as a result of the war.

Besides the short-term effects of the war on food systems, the long-term effects on various commodities are also critical. For example, Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and the second largest oil exporter. In the context of the agriculture sector, natural gas is a very important input for fertilizer production. So much so that pre-war energy price hikes, when tensions escalated between Russia and Ukraine, caused the closure of some large fertilizer plants in Europe. On the other hand, Russia occupies an important position in the global value chain in terms of fertilizer exports. In this context, Russia is the world’s largest exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the second largest exporter of potassium fertilizers, and the third largest exporter of phosphorous fertilizers. Russia meets about a fifth of the world’s demand for fertilizers with its neighbor Belarus. Therefore, it seems that as a result of sanctions against Russia, there will be difficulties in the supply of fertilizers, which will reduce the productivity of soil and crops. At this point, it is reflected in the foreign press that many countries are seeking to increase their trade relations with Iran, which is a major exporter of fertilizers but is struggling with sanctions. In this regard, after the United States eased its relations with Venezuela in order to plug the Russian deficit in the supply of fossil fuels, it would not be surprising that a similar picture emerged with Iran in the fertilizer trade.

long-term image

In the context of combating climate change, both the tightness in the public budgets of countries and the uncertainty in the supply chain of products caused by the war indicate that even if the Russo-Ukrainian war ends soon, its effects will spread in the medium and long term. .

Developing countries, particularly the least developed countries, tend to be net food importers structurally. Therefore, higher food prices in the international market will make matters worse for these countries. Moreover, they usually have a stock of food within their borders that is sufficient for only a few days. Low agricultural productivity makes all countries more vulnerable to sudden shocks, such as the war between Russia and Ukraine, on a global scale.

In addition, fragile households in developing countries allocate more of their income to food and energy and are more vulnerable to price hikes in current conditions. Undoubtedly, this situation constitutes a serious obstacle to the development processes in these countries. According to a recent study published by the International Monetary Fund, a significant increase in debt ratios as a result of the increase in food and fuel prices is also expected in sub-Saharan Africa, where food costs make up 40% of household expenditures.

The future of design

The table we mentioned shows that our current food systems are highly vulnerable to the exacerbating effects of climate change and external shocks such as war and regional tensions. We need sustainable and resilient food systems to prevent their collapse as a result of the many challenges posed by climate change and disruption in the global food supply chain due to the war in Ukraine. As production of staple crops such as wheat, maize and rice is expected to decline in the coming years, diversification of food production will be crucial to ensuring that the world’s population can meet their food needs.

Successful transformation also provides opportunities to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike other polluting industries, there is no need for extensive investments or technological development of sustainable solutions such as reducing food waste in food systems, promoting agroforestry or acquiring sustainable eating habits. All of these options will reduce emissions and enable us to move forward on issues such as food security and biodiversity. As a matter of fact, it should not be forgotten that agriculture and land use account for nearly a quarter of total greenhouse gas emissions today, and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase under current policies.

On the other hand, many countries will need financial and technical support for staple food production to increase their resilience to shocks such as war and weather events that can drastically cut off the supply of staple foods. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, levels of investment to support this necessary transformation are insufficient. According to the report, the largest investment gaps are in the agriculture and land sectors, and it is calculated that investments need to be increased by 3 to 6 times compared to current levels.

In short, if collective international action is not urgently taken, a large number of people will face serious food problems, deteriorating weather conditions will damage crops and animals, and crops will be destroyed. Thus, in addition to the climate crisis, the food insecurity crisis will worsen. It is in our hands to leave a healthy world with access to nutritious foods for future generations.

* Deputy Minister of Environment and Urbanization of the Republic of Turkey, Principal Envoy for Climate Change

** Expert at the Turkish Ministry of Treasury and Finance

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