Climate Change: Are We Causing World Hunger?


November 2, 2017

On the 16th October in Rome, Pope Francis addressed the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlighting the two obstacles to overcome world hunger: conflicts and climate change. The UN states that, globally, one in nine people (795 million) are undernourished, with malnutrition claiming 45% of deaths of children under five. Whilst conflict has generally been seen as a distant, diplomatic contributor to the global hunger crisis, can our everyday lifestyles really be a major factor towards world malnutrition?

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), almost half of their emergency and recovery operations are in response to natural disasters, 90% of which are caused by the effects of climate change. Furthermore, rising global temperatures caused by climate change are leading to diminished crop yields and droughts, particularly in countries in South Asia where the population relies largely on local agriculture for both nutrition and income. This is particularly evident in Ethiopia where rainfall is expected to drop by 10% over the next 50 years, even though the vast majority of their population relies on agricultural yield for their livelihood.

It would be easy to dismiss the major contributors to CO2 emissions to large-scale power plants or airlines, however you’d be surprised at the carbon footprint of our daily activities: for example, using your mobile phone for an hour every day of the year contributes over 1250kg CO2 equivalent (CO2e). Meanwhile, one cheeseburger sets you back 3.5kg CO2e. Therefore global hunger isn’t a foreign problem; we are causing a direct impact through the increasing use of energy, fuel and technology. As Pope Francis argued, “There is a re-emergence of the nonchalance towards the delicate balances of ecosystems, the presumption of being able to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and greed for profit.” Indeed, his reference to the withdrawal of “some” countries from the Paris Agreement reasserts the fact that our attitudes to the implications of climate change are worrying.

So how can we tackle the relationship between climate change and world hunger? One theory suggested by the FAO is to adopt climate-smart agriculture which is an approach to identify production systems that can adapt to the impacts of climate change; for instance, switching to crops which hold a higher tolerance to heat and drought such as millet and sorghum, or the use of rainfall capture to reduce water stress and yield reduction. Most importantly, however, we need to be discussing not only how to adapt to climate change but also how to fight climate change. Considering the consequences of climate change extend to the human rights of the population affected, this link requires an inclusive and international response, not just from leaders and institutions but also at home. Or, as Pope Francis put it, “We cannot resign ourselves to saying ‘someone else will take care of it.’”Hence human-induced climate change means more than simply a hotter planet; our fuel-dependent lifestyles are in fact driving the increasing rate of world hunger and consequently global inequality. As Oxfam put it, “A hot world is a hungry world.” It’s time we stop ignoring it.

–  Anna Begley