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COP21: how climate change affects access to our daily bread

COP21: how climate change affects access to our daily bread

"The poorest communities face the greatest impact of climate change.” Here, a cattle farmer walking on a dry river bed. © Sean Hawkey/WCC

09 December 2015

Climate change poses serious environmental challenges to meet current and future demands for food. The poorest communities, having the smallest carbon footprint on the planet, are facing the greatest impact of climate change. For many years, the right to food has been a key issue and priority for many parties, churches and ecumenical delegations involved in climate talks.

Food Security is the term used to describe the status of fair sharing of sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. And we can’t talk about food security without talking about agriculture.

The UN climate agreement, currently being negotiated at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, does not mention agriculture, and it is unlikely it can be added at this late stage.

“The fact that food security is not specifically mentioned in the agreement is unfortunate,” said Mattias Söderberg, head of the ACT Alliance at COP21, as he explained the current strategy of faith-based organizations lobbying in Paris.

“What we are doing here now is to put all our efforts to get an agreement with strong focus on adaptation. This is the key priority for the whole food security agenda and the right to food”, he said. “If we do not learn how to adapt to climate change, we will have a huge crisis related to food security”, added Söderberg.

Climate change has been directly affecting the livelihoods of marginalized communities, farmers and fishing communities, who are crucial to the world’s food security.

Stephanie McDonald, Senior Policy Advisor at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, believes that despite the fact that agriculture has not been included in the draft Paris Agreement, there are still good indications for those concerned about food security.

“We are encouraged by the fact that agriculture is mentioned in the majority of the  ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ that were submitted,” she said. “Agriculture is therefore recognized as a solution to reducing emissions.”

While countries work on mitigation efforts, there are people having to adapt to the effects of climate change now.

“It’s a startling fact that at least 70 percent of people who suffer chronic hunger live in rural areas in developing countries, and most of these are small-scale farmers”, McDonald said.

Climate change is also contributing to a greater occurrence of extreme weather events, changes in rainfall patterns, and more frequent droughts.  These conditions are posing enormous threats to the small-scale agriculture that nourishes the majority of people in the neediest regions of the world.

There is a significant decrease of crop yield associated with the increase of temperature. UN IPCC figures estimate declines of up to 50% for staples such as rice, wheat and maize in some locations over the next 35 years due to the impacts of climate change.

Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), stresses the important role to be played by agroecological farming practices in the future.

“These kind of agricultural practices have a far lower footprint than the industrial model and a higher prevalence of biological diversity, which lowers the vulnerability to changes in climatic conditions brought upon by global warming”, he said.

“Besides”, said Kurian, “if we fail to limit climate change, the likely sea level rise will also result in the inundation of low-lying coastal regions and islands in the future. The livelihood of communities living in low-lying areas would be threatened, compromising fishing opportunities and with the loss of productive agricultural lands and saltwater intrusion”, he added.

Church and ecumenical delegations at COP21 have been stressing that ensuring food security goes way beyond ensuring food production and distribution. Rather than being driven by markets, our decisions and interventions need to be guided by communities’ priorities, knowledge and capabilities to plan for and overcome climate change.

Whatever the outcome of COP21, EAA is engaged in ongoing advocacy to ensure all people have access to adequate food and nutrition. The EAA’s “Food for Life” campaign, for example, continues to promote just and sustainable food systems through international policy and practice; to promote adequate nutrition through a rights-based approach and enhancing local food systems; and to mobilize action and reflection for food justice.

Learn more about the “Food for Life campaign

“Leave no one behind”: COP21 must tackle climate risks of the poorest and most vulnerable (WCC press release of 7 December)

COP21: “A moment of truth (WCC press release of 1 December)

UN Climate summit results vital for world’s future (WCC press release of 26 November)

WCC Care for creation and climate justice