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New Commission Confronts Threats To Food Security From Climate Change

March 11, 2011

Experts from 6 continents are set to produce policy recommendations for boosting food production in face of harsher climates, increasing populations, scarce resources

Recent droughts and floods have contributed to increases in food prices. These are pushing millions more people into poverty and hunger, and are contributing to political instability and civil unrest. Climate change is predicted to increase these threats to food security and stability. Responding to this, the world’s largest agriculture research consortium today announced the creation of a new Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

Chaired by the United Kingdom’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, the Commission will in the next ten months seek to build international consensus on a clear set of policy actions to help global agriculture adapt to climate change, achieve food security and reduce poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a rich body of scientific evidence for sustainable agriculture approaches that can increase production of food, fibre and fuel, help decrease poverty and benefit the environment, but agreement is needed on how best to put these approaches into action at scale. Evidence also shows that climate change, with population growth and pressures on natural resources, is set to produce food shortages and biodiversity loss worldwide unless action is taken now.

“Extreme weather like the droughts in Russia, China and Brazil and the flooding in Pakistan and Australia have contributed to a level of food price volatility we haven’t seen since the oil crisis of 40 years ago,” Beddington said. “Unfortunately, this could be just a taste of things to come because in the next few decades the build-up of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere could greatly increase risk of droughts, flooding, pest infestation and water scarcity for agriculture systems already under tremendous stress.”

The Commission brings together senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics, and natural resources from Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.

“I think policymakers are eager for a clear set of recommendations supported by a strong scientific consensus for achieving food security in a world where weather extremes seem to becoming more and more common,” said Dr. Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Research Director of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and the Commission’s Deputy Chair. “This Commission is confronting a problem not just of the future but, for places like Bangladesh, a problem of the present. We already are seeing major changes in growing conditions caused by higher temperatures and loss of productive lands to rising sea levels.”

Today, scientists are increasingly concerned that more extreme weather events, especially drought and floods will impede the growth in food production required to avert hunger and political instability as the global population increases to nine billion people by 2050. Even an increase in global mean temperatures of only two degrees Celsius””the low end of current estimates””could significantly reduce crop and livestock yields. Supporting these concerns has been the weather-induced crop losses that contributed to high food prices this year and in 2008.

The World Bank reported in February that the recent rise in food prices””which included a doubling of wheat prices and a 73 percent increase in maize prices””already has pushed an extra 44 million people into poverty. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said food prices have been an “aggravating factor” in the political turmoil in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East and that their destabilizing effect “could become more serious.”

The Commission has been set up by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program (CCAFS) ““ a 10-year effort launched by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) ““ with support from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development.

“Our ability to deal with the effects of climate change on food security, in both the developed and developing world, will largely determine whether our future is one marked by stability or perpetual food shocks,” said Dr Bruce Campbell, Director of CCAFS. “But there are so many perspectives on the best way for farmers to adapt to climate change””and for farmers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as well””that we have ended up sort of paralyzed by a lack of clear choices.”

The Commission will synthesize existing research to clearly articulate scientific findings on the potential impact of climate change on food security globally and regionally. The Commission will then produce a set of specific policy actions for dealing with these challenges.

The Commission’s findings will be primarily directed to international policy, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Rio+20 Earth Summit, and the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized and developing countries.

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