New commission confronts threats to food security from climate change

COPENHAGEN (11 March 2011) — 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.

The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change is identifying what policy changes and actions are needed now to help the world achieve sustainable agriculture that contributes to food security and poverty reduction, and helps respond to climate change adaptation and mitigation goals. The Commission is an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), with additional support from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development.

Full list of Commissioners

Biographical details are available at http://ccafs.cgiar.org/content/commission/commissioners

  • Professor Sir John Beddington, CMG FRS Chief Scientist, Government Office for Science, United Kingdom (Commission Chair)
  • Dr Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, Bangladesh
  • Dr Adrian Fernández Bremauntz, Senior Consultant, ClimateWorks Foundation, Mexico
  • Dr Megan Clark, FTSE, GAICD, Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia
  • Dr Marion Guillou, President, Institut Scientifique de Recherche Agronomique (INRA), France
  • Professor Molly Jahn, Laboratory of Genetics and Department of Agronomy and Special Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost for Sustainability Sciences, the University of Madison-Wisconsin, USA
  • Professor Lin Erda, Director of the Research Centre of Agriculture and Climate Change, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China
  • Professor Tekalign Mamo, State Minister and Minister’s Advisor, Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopia
  • Dr Nguyen Van Bo, President, Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science, Vietnam
  • Dr Carlos A Nobre, Director of the Center for Earth System Science, National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Brazil
  • Professor Bob Scholes, Fellow, Natural Resources and the Environment, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa
  • Dr Rita Sharma, Secretary, National Advisory Council (Prime Minister’s Office), India
  • Professor Judi Wakhungu, Executive Director, African Center for Technology Studies (ACTS), Kenya

Key facts on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change from the CCAFS program:

  • A 4-degree rise in temperatures will have profound effects on farming, cutting down both the range of potential adaptation options and the efficacy of those options. Different crop models give different estimates, but ensembles of models suggest average yield drops of 19% for maize and 47% for beans, and much more frequent crop failures. (Source: Thornton et. al. 2010 – http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1934/117.full)
  • The first half of the 21st century is likely to see increases in food prices, and increasing demand driven by population and income growth. Even without climate change, prices could rise by 10% (for rice) to 54% (for maize) by 2050. With climate change, price increases more or less double, ranging from 31% for rice in the optimistic scenario to 100% for maize in the baseline scenario. (Nelson et. al. 2010 – http://www.ifpri.org/publication/food-security-farming-and-climate-change-2050)
  • Climate change provides a massive and urgent incentive to intensify efforts to disseminate the fruits of past research, to adapt it to farmer contexts in different developing countries, and to put in place the necessary policies and incentives. The benefits of adopting many of the existing technologies could be sufficient to override the immediate negative impacts of climate change.
    Key messages from the major Foresight project on the Future of Global Food and Farming, lead by Professor Sir John Beddington:
  • Addressing climate change and achieving sustainability in the global food system need to be recognised as dual imperatives.
  • Ambitious, and in some case legally binding, targets for reducing emissions have been set, which cannot be achieved without the food system playing an important part.

There is a clear case for substantially integrating and improving considerations of agriculture and food production in negotiations on global emissions reductions.

The program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science, and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security. For more information, visit www.ccafs.cgiar.org.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a global partnership that unites organizations engaged in research for sustainable development with the funders of this work. The funders include developing and industrialized country governments, foundations, and international and regional organizations. The work they support is carried out by 15 members of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers, in close collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations, including national and regional research institutes, civil society organizations, academia, and the private sector. www.cgiar.orghttp://cgiarconsortium.cgxchange.org.

The Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) was established in 2001 to promote cooperation for the integrated study of the Earth system, the changes that are occurring to the system and the implications of these changes for global sustainability. Bringing together global environmental change researchers worldwide, the ESSP comprises four international global environmental change research programmes: DIVERSITAS; the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP); the International Geosphere — Biosphere Programme (IGBP); and the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). http://www.essp.org/

The Global Donor Platform for Rural Development is a network of 34 bilateral and multilateral donors, international financing institutions, intergovernmental organisations and development agencies.

Members share a common vision that agriculture and rural development is central to poverty reduction, and a conviction that sustainable and efficient development requires a coordinated global approach.

The Platform was created in 2003 to increase and improve the quality of development assistance in agriculture and rural development. www.donorplatform.org

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