Extract from Article (Vol.2, pp. 719-723)

Future Policies to Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change on Food Supplies

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It.

Neelam Chaturvedi

Many studies have shown that the largely negative effects of climate change on food supplies will be borne by those who are least fitted to cope – that is, the people and communities of the under-developed third world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. These are the communities whose circumstances render them least able to handle the increasingly frequent short-term shocks, and the longer-term changes in regional weather patterns, that climate change will bring.

To manage such impacts requires two quite different types of resilience. To cope with short-term shocks such as violent weather, floods or drought, a community needs to be able to “bounce back” – that is, to recover from the shock and return to a state somewhere near that that existed before the shock. This is the sort of resilience that the World Economic Forum meant when it talked in 2013 about the resilience of economies. Herein lies a clue, because economic circumstances and the availability and usability of food supplies are inextricably intertwined. One cannot have a food supply policy without an economic policy to go with it.

Specifically, measures that have been proposed to counter the effects of increasingly rapid and extreme weather fluctuations include improvements in irrigation, storage facilities, transport and communication. All of these require substantial investment, which many poorer countries simply cannot afford. The future food supplies in such countries will depend very much on the extent to which other, richer countries are prepared to help.

It is the way of the world that such countries are most likely to help if they can see some immediate or future benefit to themselves. This is where the second type of resilience comes in – that of permanently changing and adapting to new circumstances (in this case, new weather patterns). Countries that have been able to make such changes will be able to contribute more substantially to the growing global demand for food – a demand that Western countries will generally be able to meet for themselves in the immediate future, but which will require global cooperation in the longer term.

It could pay Western countries to make long-term investments in the facilities that will be needed. Already there has been discussion about how high-tech seed banks may be used to help develop appropriate crops for the expected future circumstances. On a larger scale, new methods, new machinery and even the movement of whole communities may be needed. In the medium term, it has been suggested that higher food imports and freer trade will help countries to adapt, as well as providing the basis for a future global food market that is both more flexible and fairer (to emphasize the complexity of the problem, it should perhaps be mentioned that increased transport will, in its turn, inevitably add to the atmospheric load of carbon dioxide).

These are all political decisions, which can only be informed by the science with which this article has been concerned. It is to be hoped that the two can get together in an effective partnership. The signs are not auspicious, but the actions are necessary if we are to ensure the safety and security of future food supplies in the face of global warming.


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