Poorly designed climate mitigation plans ‘could 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 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, could result in increasing the risk of hunger in developing countries rather than decreasing it, a new study has found.

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability investigates six Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) to see how food security can be affected by climate mitigation policies which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming.

The six IAMs showed that mitigation policies that affect agricultural markets could adversel­­­­y impact food security, particularly in low-income countries, and increase the number of people at risk of hunger by 160 million by 2050, researchers found.

“Solutions are urgently needed to mitigate climate change as well as its impacts on agriculture and food security.”

Keith Wiebe, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute

Global hunger has been on the rise over the past three years, despite the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. The number of hungry people in the world reached 821 million in 2017, according to a 2018 UN report on the state of food security.

Most climate change research makes use of IAMs because they draw from various scientific, socio-economic and other disciplines.

Lead author Shinichiro Fujimori, a professor in the department of environmental engineering at Japan’s Kyoto University, said: “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 told 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.”

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

Riahi stressed that although results vary across models and their implementation, climate mitigation policies must be carefully designed to take into account agriculture and land prices.

Fujimori believes the important message to take from the study, published May 13, is that the unintended adverse side-effects of climate mitigation actions can be avoided by smart and inclusive policies that consider these consequences. “Such policy instruments would be much cheaper than the greenhouse gas reduction costs,” he added.

Keith Wiebe, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, cautions that these negative side-effects should not be interpreted as a reason to refuse 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,” said 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,” he added.

“It is critical that policymakers design mitigation strategies carefully and with solid information on their full range of impacts to avoid unintended consequences.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk and edited for clarity.