The independent resource on global security

Climate change, food security and conflict

Min Hyun Maeng

How Climate Change Endangers Vulnerable People

Climate change has a great effect on food security that drives vulnerable groups of people into hunger and malnutrition. Food security means physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, comprising four elements, food availability, access, utilization and stability. Climate change causes loss of agricultural productivity, in terms of both quantity and quality, through flooding events, droughts and pest and pathogen outbreaks.  Food insecurity and resultant poor nutrition status, which increases vulnerability to climate-related diseases, leads to decreased food production due to low labour productivity. According to a recent report by DARA,  225 000 people die each year from hunger caused by climate change, and this figure will continue to increase up to nearly 400 000 if effective measures are not taken. The report also points out that the least independent groups, such as infant and children, and communities in low-income settings, are hardest hit.


Climate Change and Conflict Related to Food Security

Climate change has been recognized as ‘a threat to world peace’ by UN Security Council. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s assessment report on Sudan published in 2007 identified climate change (including deforestation and desertification, etc.) as a major cause of the conflict. It reported that erratic precipitation and higher temperatures caused by climate change worsened Sudan’s vulnerability to environmental change and led to food insecurity and competition and conflicts over water rights, rangeland and rain-fed agricultural land.


Biofuel Production and Food Security

US corn and soybean prices soared this year due to long-lasting drought, resulting in increased concerns regarding biofuel production in the country. Based on a series of international agreements on climate change mitigation, nations have been making efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thus, US and European governments have paid attention on biofuel markets to achieve the goal while increasing energy needs of people are met. However, it has been pointed out that promoting biofuel crops that have been used for food might have adverse effect of food insecurity. In the US, demands for ethanol, which is derived from corn crop, increased the annual percentage of corn crop that was used for ethanol from 10% in 2005 to 27% in 2010. It is estimated to be 40% now.  According to Oxfam, EU mandates for biofuel (biodiesel comprises 80% of EU’s biofuels) could increase food prices, particularly vegetable oil and oilseed, by 36% by 2020. High food prices make the poor to adjust their food consumption, leading to hunger and malnutrition.

Food insecurity caused by climate change hampers our effort to address hunger and malnutrition. According to UN’s MDGs Report 2012, although MDG’s poverty reduction target has been successful, hunger remains a global challenge with regional disparities, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Halving hunger target has yet to be met, and financial and food crises we experienced in 2007 and 2008 devastated sub-Saharan Africa. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon launched ‘Zero Hunger Challenge’ at Rio+20 Summit on sustainable development, putting a spot light on the importance of food security in development. When tackling climate-related issues, nutrition and health equity should be placed on the top priority.