COP21: New UN agency tool shows how climate action shapes risk of hunger ‘for better or worse’

At COP21, Ertharin Cousin, WFP’s Executive Director (centre) launches the UN agency’s new tool – the “Food Insecurity and Climate Change Vulnerability map.” 1 December 2015. Photo: UN Radio/Cristina Silveiro

1 December 2015 – A powerful online research tool launched today in Paris at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) offers a window on the world’s global future to the 2080s, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

“What the tool shows us is that we must reduce emissions and we must also invest in adaptation,” Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of WFP, told the UN News Service in an interview following the launch of the new map at a COP21 press briefing.

“Reducing emissions without investing in adaptation will not allow us to deliver the durable, sustainable results over the next century to ensure that we can provide the prosperity and peace that the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] so boldly supports,” she added.

Ms. Cousin further highlighted that the map paints a stark picture of how climate disasters drive hunger: “In Paris, we must decide between a future world where ending hunger is achievable – or one where we and every future generation continue this losing struggle responding to the scourge of global hunger,” she said.

In less than two weeks, Member States are expected to adopt a new universal climate change agreement intended to limit the global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius. Experts have reported that a rise beyond this level will cause irreversible damage to the planet by exacerbating droughts, floods, food and water shortages, affecting the most vulnerable countries first.

According to WFP, the new research tool – called the Food Insecurity and Climate Change Vulnerability map – examines how over time climate change may increase hunger vulnerability across the globe. Depending on the outcome of the Paris negotiations, the agency says future generations will inherit a world with less vulnerability than today, or a world significantly more vulnerable to food insecurity.

Produced with the Met Office Hadley Centre, it illustrates how strong adaptation and mitigation efforts can prevent the worst impacts of climate change on hunger globally and help make people less vulnerable to food insecurity. But it also shows how failure to adapt along with increases in greenhouse gas emissions, could increase the vulnerability of millions of people to hunger and malnutrition.

“Helping vulnerable people adapt and build their resilience to climate related disruptions requires identifying sufficient and predictable funding, while simultaneously investing in a low carbon future,” Ms. Cousin said. “Only if leaders get it right in Paris will we end hunger by 2030 and provide future generations with the opportunity to enjoy sustainable and durable global food security.”

The map incorporates five years of research between WFP’s food security experts and world-renowned scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre. It shows how climate change affects food security vulnerability in least developed countries today, and through sophisticated projections, the extent to which it will do so in the future, depending on climate action.

Users can select a time – present day, 2050s and 2080s – and view vulnerability to climate-induced hunger (low at white, high at deep red) according to adaptation efforts and levels of emissions.

“Our joint research shows how climate change can affect the scale and geography of food insecurity, and how adaptation and mitigation can address the challenges of future food insecurity in developing and least-developed countries,” said Kirsty Lewis, a Climate Security Science Manager at the Met Office, in a press release.

In the meantime, WFP recalled that climate disasters affect hungry and vulnerable people disproportionately, and that such disasters increase hunger by destroying land, livestock, crops and food supplies, making it harder for people to access markets and food networks.


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