The Human Face of Hunger Demands Climate Action at Copenhagen


Photo credit: IRRI Images via Flickr

As I prepare to attend the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen, I am reminded of the people I've met while working in 85 countries around the world. I've seen global suffering first-hand, and it shapes the way I approach the challenge of global climate crisis. For me, the purpose of the conference is about hunger and starvation as much as anything else, as changing weather patterns will affect how humans grow food.


Without flowing water, what will happen to the two largest wheat producers in the world: China and India? Photo credit: Robert Thomson via Flickr

This December's Copenhagen Conference is the fifteenth Conference Of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. It is meant to follow the 1997 Kyoto protocol by setting global limits on emissions and goals for greenhouse gas levels.

Remembering what I've seen is what compels me to keep working. The climate crisis means that changing weather patterns will affect food production at a fundamental level around the world. As Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute points out, a 3-foot rise in sea level will submerge many of the rice-growing areas of Southeast Asia that feed much of the world. The melting of glaciers in Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau could mean that the great rivers of China and India cannot flow during the dry season. Without flowing water, what happens to the two largest producers of wheat in the world--which happen to be China and India?

COP15: Climate conference and food security conference
Our global challenge is clear: more people want more food, even as the planet is already strained to capacity. The timing of this conference couldn't be more critical. These threats to our global food system are why I think of COP15 not just as a climate conference, but also a food security conference.

Pursuing food security (the availability and access of food for people) in every nation is why it is so important for our global leaders to stand together and generate united strategies and solutions to address our food and climate crises. Seeing the leaders of the world's largest two greenhouse gas emitters -- China and the United States -- speak together against climate change should challenge the notion that the world cannot find a way forward on this complex and confounding issue.

President Obama's recent language urging the world to unite for change at Copenhagen is encouraging. While the United States and China work to find common ground, the US and the European Union made a $10 billion a year commitment to aid the developing world in adapting to climate change. Will it be enough?

Toward sustainable food production
If that money is spent on expensive fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and genetic experimentation, it may not be sufficient. Evidence suggests that food security does not improve when chemical companies receive money earmarked for development. World hunger is not for sale. Organic agriculture can not only counteract the effects of climate change and increase food security, but also improve global quality of life. United Nations reports show that African farmers can increase income through organic agriculture. Our own paper on the Organic Green Revolution suggests the way forward for an international agriculture that will benefit all citizens of developed and developing nations with real and lasting food security. All over the world, this approach is a realistic option. What other innovation can make that claim?

The science is clear that organic agriculture can be high-sequestration, low-emission and food-secure farming. That's the message that I will take to Copenhagen with the International Federation of Organic Food Movements (IFOAM).

I will tell the world leaders and delegates this: "If we are truly serious about solving our climate crisis and ensuring food security, we must recognize the value of organic agriculture."

More on the connection between agriculture and climate
The Copenhagen Conference on Food Security
Organic Farming Could Stop Global Climate Change
UK Chief Scientist: Food Crisis Will Bite Before Climate Change
Organic Food : Making Climate Protection Taste Good

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