Poorly designed mitigation plans can increase hunger

cultivating farmer-main
A herder cultivates climate-resilient plants for use as animal feed. Copyright: Asian Development Bank [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]. This image has been cropped.

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  • Climate mitigation essential to reduce GhG emissions and global warming
  • But badly designed mitigation strategies may adversely impact food security
  • Risks are greater in Asia and Africa where hunger incidence is already high

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[NEW YORK] Climate mitigation strategies, if not well designed, can result in increasing the risk of hunger rather than decreasing it, say the results of a new study.

Published this month (13 May) in Nature Sustainability, the study investigates six Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) to see how food security can be affected by climate mitigation policies. Most climate change research makes use of IAMs because they draw from various scientific, socio-economic and other disciplines.

“Solutions are urgently needed to mitigate climate change as well as its impacts on agriculture and food security… But given the complexity of the challenges, care is needed to ensure that the proposed solutions don’t inadvertently make some problems worse”

Keith Wiebe, International Food Policy Research Institute

Mitigation refers to solutions, technologies and policies that can help reduce greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions leading to global warming. The researchers found that the six IAMs showed that mitigation policies that have side-effects on agricultural markets could adversely impact food security, particularly in low-income countries, and could increase the number of people at risk of hunger by 160 million in 2050.

Lead author Shinichiro Fujimori, a professor in the department of environmental engineering at Kyoto University, noted, “While we found a similar effect in an earlier joint paper published in Environmental Research Letters, this time we applied multiple alternative models and showed that the results are robust and have a very high confidence.”

“We want to emphasise that land- and food-related climate change mitigation policies should be carefully designed,” Fujimori tells SciDev.Net. “Policymakers should be aware that potential issues could arise as a result of the uniqueness of the food system compared to, for example, the energy system.”

“Climate policies need to go beyond carbon pricing, take into account distributional effects, and shield the poor,” says Keywan Riahi, energy programme director at the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Vienna, and study co-researcher. “If properly managed, the costs of such policies will be relatively small.”

Riahi adds that although results vary across models and model implementations, the qualitative implications call for careful design of climate mitigation policies, taking into account agriculture and land prices.

Fujimori says the important message derived from this study is that the unintended adverse side-effects of climate mitigation actions can be avoided by a smart and inclusive policy package that considers these side-effects. “Such policy instruments would be much cheaper than the greenhouse gas reduction costs,” he says.

Keith Wiebe, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, cautions that the negative side-effects of climate mitigation actions should not be interpreted as one of the excuses to refuse the climate action but rather, “We just need carefully designed policy frameworks.”

“Solutions are urgently needed to mitigate climate change as well as its impacts on agriculture and food security,” says Wiebe. “But given the complexity of the challenges, care is needed to ensure that the proposed solutions don’t inadvertently make some problems worse.”

“A key concern from the study results is that risk is borne disproportionately by countries in Africa and Asia where the incidence of hunger is already high. This doesn’t mean that climate change mitigation should be avoided,” says Wiebe.

“It is critical that policymakers design mitigation strategies carefully and with solid information on their full range of impacts to avoid unintended consequences,” says Wiebe. “To help them do this, more information will be needed on the cost of various mitigation options.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.

* This article was amended on 21 May 2019 to add the name of the author. "Marker" was also changed to "market" in the third paragraph. "Intended" was changed to "unintended" in the eighth paragraph.