THE MAIN IMPACT of climate change on the food we eat is often considered to be how rising temperatures, erratic rainfall and climate “shocks” directly damage crops.
Climate change also wipes out harvests, directly depriving poor farmers of the food that they grow to feed themselves and their families; this is the human dimension of the climate change crisis, already unfolding right across the globe.
Four years of floods have left Pakistan hungry. Now half the population suffers from a lack of available food and can’t be sure where their next meal is coming from. By 2050 climate change could create 25 million more malnourished children under the age of five and 50 million more hungry people in the world.
The impact on crops may prove deadly for people. But most people don’t grow food for themselves – they buy it. While the poorest and most vulnerable people are being hit worst by climate change, all of us will be affected, directly in our pockets.
When you’re eating your breakfast cereal you’re probably not thinking about climate change. But it’s not just causing temperatures to rise; food prices in this part of the world are set to increase too. For instance, Oxfam calculates that climate change will drive up the retail price of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes by as much as 44 percent over the next 15 years in major markets like the US and the UK as the cost of corn and rice increases.
Rising food prices will lead to the already growing problem of food poverty in western countries getting worse. Over half a million people (600,000) already live in food poverty across Ireland.
Food banks have been set up around the country to help families who can’t afford regular nutritious meals. Households are being squeezed between higher energy bills and rising prices for imported food. Many can’t afford to feed themselves properly.
Often overlooked, it is not only dirty coal or the oil industry causing climate change; food companies contribute too. Climate change is the single biggest threat to winning the fight against hunger – yet food companies are making climate change worse because of the emissions from their operations and supply chains.
Everyday items such as cereals, yoghurts and ice cream have a hefty climate footprint. A quarter of all emissions are coming from the food system and these emissions are growing as demand for food rises.
Together the ‘Big 10′ food and beverage companies create an amazing 264 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year according to Oxfam’s Behind the Brands research. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Companies can cut their emissions and encourage others to do the same.
Europe is the world’s biggest food importer, dependent on exports from regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change.
If Europe is to avoid rising food (and fuel) prices and play its role in tackling climate change G7 leaders must add weight to common sense, by developing an energy security plan that places energy saving, clean, affordable and renewable energy first.
Crucially, before the next – almost inevitable – price shock, we need to keep cutting emissions and fast. We need to pressure businesses and governments to stop climate change from making people hungry and help build a future where everyone has enough to eat.
Otherwise, consumers and food companies here will increasingly feel the pinch of higher and more volatile prices for their food. More frequent and more extreme storms, floods, droughts and shifting weather patterns are affecting food supplies, driving up food prices, causing hunger and poverty, and jeopardising past gains in the fight against hunger.
It is within our power to ensure that every person’s right to food is realised, both in the developing world and here at home.
We can all play a part. The food we eat does not have to feed climate change.
Jim Clarken, the CEO of Oxfam Ireland.