National and International Issues

Food Security and the Changing Climate

Writing on climate change and global warming is always a challenge. An abundance of reports and articles on the growing impacts and future risks of climate change are published every day but still we are not taking notice. Perhaps the message seems too complex, too technical, to easily define just what it is that we as global citizens can do to make a difference to ensure we reduce the risks and leave a healthy planet for future generations.



Firstly, let’s look at just some of the basic points of what climate change and global warming is all about. What are the drivers and concerns? Put in simple terms, global warming describes the gradual increase in the average temperature of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans. Human activity has grown exponentially in the past 150 years and this is stressing life on our planet. To support the needs of a burgeoning global population, there has been an increase in the volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) like methane and nitrous oxide, through burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, agriculture and other human activities. 
Scientists believe that these GHGs have been the main sources of global warming. The opinion of many scientific organisations is that average global temperatures could rise between 1.4 and 5.8°C by the year 2100. That could further increase the melting of polar ice caps, and glaciers like those in northern Pakistan – we are already seeing this – and the frequency, predictability and intensity of severe weather events. 


As the global calls for action continue to become louder, it is important to think about what the impacts of climate change mean for Pakistan, one of the most affected countries. With a steady rise in temperature, and increased frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, storms and drought, the risks are growing. Pakistan has already felt the impact in the past few years. Weather related disasters have caused great havoc and distress to millions of people and to the economy. 


The UN Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCC) Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, recently described the situation as a ‘Climate Emergency’, presenting our world with a challenge that previous generations have not encountered. Some countries and cities are now declaring a climate emergency to raise awareness about the severity of the situation, push harder for change, and to set new targets to reduce GHG emissions.
Understanding how climate change will affect future generations if action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions to zero, is paramount. But change is both difficult and costly for all countries and requires courageous decisions. Prioritising needs for budgetary allocations is a delicate and very political balancing act in all countries. Climate and environment needs often suffer to the benefit of powerful industry lobbies – a clear manifestation of short-sighted thinking.
Amongst the many climate-related risks, but not so much in the global discourse, are concerns many countries have about the potential impacts of climate change on their national security. Defence and other state analysts in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and a number of other countries and regions have conducted studies on the potential risks to their national security caused by increased internal and transborder migration and conflict caused by competition for precious resources like water and food. 
The most recent security-related study, and perhaps one which clearly identified the gap between party politics and science, was conducted by Dr. Rod Schoonover, Senior Analyst, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, at the U.S. State Department. He presented the findings to the Hearing on National Security Implications of Climate Change, before the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives. Releasing the report proved to be controversial and put the State Department in conflict with the White House.
In the introduction to his report, Dr. Schoonover emphasised some key points which apply to many countries in a section titled ‘The Bottom Line’. He said: “Fundamental characteristics of the global climate are moving outside the bounds experienced in modern history and there is uncertainty on how some aspects of the climate will evolve. Given the complex social and political context in which a multitude of changes are occurring, however, we can expect new and compounded stresses on people and societies around the world, many with outcomes important for national security.”
The report goes on to quote: “Climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security over the next 20 years through global perturbations, increased risk of political instability, heighted tensions between countries for resources, a growing number of climate-linked humanitarian crises, emergent geostrategic competitive domains, and adverse effects on militaries. Increasingly probably amalgamations of these security concerns are especially worrisome. Climate change alone is unlikely to trigger state failure in the next few decades but it will affect factors that contribute to conflict, such as access to natural resources. People will increasingly decide to move because of deteriorating conditions, both within nations and into countries that are more prosperous. Perhaps most importantly, the rapidity of concurrent and compounded changes to Earth’s systems, from human and natural causes, heightens the risk for unwelcome and possibly severe climate-linked surprises.” An alarming analysis but it sums up the concerns of many global defence analysts.
What makes this particular report so controversial in Washington is that, according to The Washington Post, the White House tried to suppress the report as it does not align with their view of climate change and the implications. Given that the U.S. is one of the biggest GHG emitters, has very powerful industry and energy lobbies, and that the current administration is less pro-environment than the previous, it is perhaps unsurprising. Despite investments around the world in renewable energy and natural gas, carbon emissions continue to grow and, along with that, the climate challenges.
In his recent Environment Day statement on the impacts of climate change, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called for action from world leaders and said, “The environment is facing unprecedented perils, caused by human activity.” The Secretary General stressed the need to “tax pollution, not people; stop subsidizing fossil fuels and stop building new coal plants.” Many governments would disagree because of political and other imperatives but some are taking steps forward on this.
As the global calls for action continue to become louder, it is important to think about what the impacts of climate change mean for Pakistan, one of the most affected countries. With a steady rise in temperature, and increased frequency of extreme weather events such as floods, storms and drought, the risks are growing. Pakistan has already felt the impact in the past few years. Weather related disasters have caused great havoc and distress to millions of people and to the economy. In the north, glaciers are melting faster than before, creating new risks for local populations with the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). The country is one of the most water-stressed in the world, not just through droughts but because of poor water management practices. By 2040, the water stress could be almost absolute if action is not taken. With a population of at least 207 million, many of whom are yet to rise out of poverty, the risks of hunger and food insecurity are high. The signs are not good.
Pakistan’s climate challenges are being addressed by a diverse group of stakeholders. The Ministry of Climate Change, national and provincial Ministries, Provincial Departments, Disaster Management Authorities, World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UN agencies, think tanks, and civil society are working to research, analyse and address all aspects of the scientific evidence, impacts, and to mitigate the risks. It is no easy task. And, unsurprisingly, the question of how to fund what needs to be done is a big one.
Every year, the Pakistan Meteorological Department, Federal Flood Commission, National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities, military, UN and other stakeholders prepare annual monsoon contingency plans in anticipation of what might lie ahead when the monsoon season strikes. But can we ever be fully prepared for a flood of the magnitude of 2010 and mitigate the risks? Unlikely. No two disasters are ever the same but mitigation initiatives can make a difference.
At the other end of the weather scale, droughts cause extensive misery in many parts of the country. Currently, both Balochistan and Sindh are affected by drought. Drought is not an unknown phenomenon in Pakistan, but the scale and frequency appear to be increasing. This places additional stresses on the growing population through loss of livestock, crops, livelihoods, and increasing food prices due to scarcity. When living on or below the poverty line, the risk to millions of people is obvious. 
There are also indications of an increase in the number of heatwaves. In 2015, temperatures in Karachi  soared to 45 degrees, the highest since 1979. At least 1,300 people died as a result of the extreme heat. With little shade, electricity loadshedding, and poor water supplies, the situation became intolerable for many of the poor and outdoor workers. Hospitals and morgues reported they could never remember a time in the past when the scale of deaths and illness from heat stroke were of such magnitude. The Ministry of Climate Change’s Technical Report on the Karachi Heatwave June 2015 concluded that the heatwave “was unprecedented in terms of persistence and rare prolonged period of consecutive days of high temperature (> 5 °C than normal values)”. Lessons were learned from the tragedy but the critical issues of addressing the inherent climate risks in mega-cities like Karachi, are yet to be fully understood and addressed.
Agriculture is one of Pakistan’s most important sectors and accounts for 19.5 percent of Pakistan’s GDP, employs 42.3 percent of the national labour force. It is critical to national development, food security and poverty reduction. Agriculture is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change yet still not enough effort and investment is being put into ‘climate proofing’. For example, if the wheat crop fails because of weather-related events, the impact upon the entire country is substantial. Food insecurity and malnutrition in Pakistan could escalate to unmanageable proportions and hunger, already a challenge identified and being addressed by the Government of Pakistan, could become endemic.
The World Bank’s report, [email protected]: Shaping the Future, noted that increasing population growth rate, urbanisation and alarming climate changes will result in an increase in food shortage in Pakistan. Importantly, the report stated that to accommodate growth in other sectors, food security, gains in value addition, and to build resilience to ongoing climate change, it is critical for agriculture to improve water management, encourage water productivity and saving, and diversify crops toward higher value-added horticulture. 
According to UN reports, hunger is globally on the rise; yet, an estimated one-third of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste. This is equivalent to 1.3 billion tons worth around $1 trillion. To feed the world sustainably, producers need to grow more food while reducing negative environmental impacts such as soil, water and nutrient loss, greenhouse gas emissions and degradation of ecosystems. But let’s not just leave it to the agricultural sector. It’s up to consumers as well to rethink their use of food. Consumers must be encouraged to shift to nutritious and safe diets with a lower environmental footprint. If 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year but over 820 million people are malnourished, it is clear that we need to rethink the way we produce, distribute, and consume.



Source: World Food Programe


The World Bank’s report, [email protected]: Shaping the Future, noted that increasing population growth rate, urbanisation and alarming climate changes will result in an increase in food shortage in Pakistan. Importantly, the report stated that to accommodate growth in other sectors, food security, gains in value addition, and to build resilience to ongoing climate change, it is critical for agriculture to improve water management, encourage water productivity and saving, and diversify crops toward higher value-added horticulture. 


Soon after he was elected in 2018, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, highlighted the serious challenges of stunting and malnutrition which have a huge impact on the future of an expanding population and their future prospects to contribute to the nation. In June 2019, the Ministry of Health, UNICEF, and Aga Khan University, with the support of UK Aid, published the latest National Nutrition Survey. Malnutrition rates have not improved much since 2011 when the last survey was conducted. Stunting in children under the age of five is currently 40% as compared to 44% in 2011, while wasting has increased from 15% to 18% and obesity is on the rise. This is a cause for great concern.
According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency which provides food and other assistance to millions of people affected by natural and man-made disasters in Pakistan and around the globe, climate change exacerbates the risks of food insecurity and undernutrition in a number of ways. WFP identifies the following points in how climate contributes to food insecurity globally:
•   Food availability:  Higher temperatures will have an impact on yields while changes in rainfall could affect both crop quality and quantity.
•  Food access: For the most vulnerable people, lower agricultural output means lower incomes. Under these conditions, the poorest people — who already use most of their income on food — sacrifice additional income and other assets to meet their nutritional requirements, or resort to poor coping strategies.
•  Food utilization: Climate-related risks affect calorie intake, particularly in areas where chronic food insecurity is already a significant problem. Changing climatic conditions could also create a vicious cycle of disease and hunger. Nutrition is likely to be affected by climate change through related impacts on food security, dietary diversity, care practices and health.
Food stability: More frequent and intense weather events can upset the stability of individuals’ and government food security strategies, creating fluctuations in food availability, access and utilization.
Pakistan cannot control what happens elsewhere in the world with regards to climate challenges but the country, as a whole, can take steps forward through collaboration and investments in clean energy, environmental science, disaster management and risk reduction, poverty alleviation efforts (like the Prime Minister’s Ehsaas initiative), and better agricultural and water management practices. But the responsibility for change falls on all of us. These are just a few things (amongst many) that each of us can do to help:
•    Use water wisely. Turn off the tap; don’t wash the car and leave water running.
•  Turn off lights and unnecessary appliances, and choose eco-friendly options when purchasing these items. Households consume 29 percent of global energy and consequently contribute to 21 percent of resultant CO2 emissions. 
•    Choose renewable energy where you can. 
•    Carpool to work. It will also save your fuel bill. 
•    Stop using single-use plastic. Not only is it a major form of pollution, the energy required to make it contributes to GHGs. 
•    Recycle. 
•   Don’t waste food – eat or share what you have. Grow your own healthy vegetables and fruit in kitchen gardens. Children will learn much from the delights of planting seeds and watching them grow and then getting to eat the food. 
•   Plant trees, but make sure they’re native to your area. 27,000 million hectares of forests are destroyed in Pakistan every year through logging and urbanisation. These need to be replaced. Trees give us the oxygen we breathe and filter out harmful pollutants, provide shade, stablise the earth, and give a home to birds and other creatures. 
•  Encourage your children to read about climate change and the environment – there are many publications and online sites which are designed to make the topic interesting and fun. Actually, they make good reading even for adults.
The impacts of climate change are accelerating and it affects us all. It is not just up to governments to find and implement solutions, citizens also have to take responsibility. Let’s treat this as a climate emergency, take better care of our planet and think about our own actions and their impact on the environment. And let’s not wait until ‘tomorrow’, it may be too late for our planet.


The writer is an Australian Disaster Management and Post-Conflict Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Advisor who lives in Islamabad. She consults for Government and UN agencies and has previously worked at both ERRA and NDMA.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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