Climate Change and Its Impact on Food Security

Dr. Dalip Kumar, Project Officer, National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi

Climate change is one of the biggest manmade global environmental challenges in front of the world. Climate change is a change in the statistical properties of the climate system when considered over long period of time, regardless of cause.There are so many aspects of impact to the climate change. The United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods .This is undoubtedly the greatest environmental threat that humanity has to face in the coming years. Climate change directly affects the agricultural productivity. Climate change is a broader term which embraces in its ambit many things like changes in atmosphere, temperature, sea level and ocean acidification. Atmosphere change denotes change in the proportion of Carbon dioxide(CO2), Methane(CH4), Nitric Oxide(N20), Ozone(O3), Choloroflouro Carbon(CFCS) and other green houses gases like fluorinated gases, black carbon etc. Temperature change means changes in surface temperature, tropospheric and stratospheric temperatures. Sea level change is related to natural phenomenon like sea level rise, flooding the coastal areas, cyclones, Tsunamis, etc..  Ocean acidification affects CaCO3 saturation which has adverse impacts on marine organism, crabs, marine mammals and changes in the ocean chemistry resulting into the loss of livelihoods of nearly 30 millions of world’s poorest people who directly depend on coral reef eco system. All these have of adverse impacts on food security and public health.

Climate is likely to have effects on agricultural production. Negative impact  includes more frequent droughts and floods, heat stress, increased outbreaks of diseases and pests, shortening of crop growing periods and in coastal region increased flooding and salinisation due to sea level rise and impeded drainage.   This also directly affects the livelihoods of millions of people through impacts on agricultural yield and productivity.

Climate change first gained significant attention in 1988. Not long afterward, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted by various government representatives in May 1992 and came into force in 1994. The UNFCCC  is an international environmental treaty produced at the United Nations conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, informally known as the Earth Submit, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3-14 June 1992. Today, the UNFCCC is one of the most widely supported international environment agreements and as of December 2009, UNFCCC had 192 parties. The decision- making authority of the UNFCCC is the Conference of the Parties (CoP), which is established as the supreme body of the convention. The convention of climate change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. The CoP meets annually. One major agreement that was reached at the Third Conference of the parties at Kyoto, Japan in 1997 is now called the Kyoto Protocol (KP).

Climate change affects people, plants, and animals.  Effects of climate change include sea level rise, shrinking glaciers, changes in the range and distribution of plants and animals, trees blooming earlier, lengthening of growing seasons, ice on rivers and lakes freezing later and breaking up earlier, and thawing of permafrost. Based on current trends, energy-related CO2 emissions would more than double by 2050 and put the world on a catastrophic trajectory that could lead to temperatures more than 5°C warmer than pre-industrial times. Concerted global action is urgently needed to limit global warming to around 2°C.

Carbon dioxide emissions are those stemming from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement. They include carbon dioxide produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels and gas flaring. Developed countries are more responsible for the Carbon dioxide emission which is largely contributing to the fast climate change. In 2007, the total per capita CO2 emission in the world was 4.6 metric tons per year. It ranged from the lowest 0.2 for least developed countries to 8.2 for Euro   areas, 8.1 for Europe and Central areas and the highest of 11.0 metric tons for OECD countries. Similarly the percentage of forest areas to the total land areas in 2010 has been given in the same table. The total forest area in the world is 31.1 per cent which is less than 33 per cent required for clean environment and balanced eco system as per scientific norms. Per capita emission as well as percentage of global CO2 emission, China and USA are leading the top polluting countries. China’s share in CO2 emission is 20.7 per cent in the total CO2 emission at global level. India’s share is only 5 per cent in year 2007 which had declined from 5.3 in 2006. The decline despite the growing industrialization is the result of mitigation efforts by the government and also growing awareness for the use of cleaner sources of energy. India per capita CO2 emission is currently only 1.1 tones, when compared to over 20 tones for the US and in excess of 10 tones for most OECD countries.

The mean sea level rise along the Indian coasts is estimated to be about 1.3 mm/year on an average. These estimates are consistent with the values reported elsewhere (Church at al., 2001). However, these estimates are slightly lower than the global mean sea-level estimates of 1.8 mm/year for the period 1963-2003. The mean sea-level- rise trends alone the Indian Coast. The figure indicates very alarming trend for Dimond Harbour (Kolkata) Coast with 5.74 mm/year which is the most densely populated region of India.

Climate change will depress agricultural productivity. It will add several conflicting pressures to agricultural production. Climate Change will affect agricultural sector in the Indian sub-continent in many ways .  Impact on agriculture due to  climate change have received considerable attention in India as they are closely linked to the  food security and  poverty status of  a vast  majority of the population . It will affect agriculture directly through higher temperatures, greater crop water demand, more variable rainfall, cold spells and extreme climate events such as floods and draughts. Most of developing countries have reducing global average productivity. (World Bank, 2010). Agriculture, forestry and fisheries are all sensitive to climate. Their production processes are therefore likely to be affected by climate change. In general, impacts are expected to be positive in temperate regions and negative in tropical ones, but there is still uncertainty about how projected changes will play out at the local level, and potential impacts may be altered by the adoption of risk management measures and adaptation strategies that strengthen preparedness and resilience. Indian Agriculture depends heavily on vagaries of nature, particularly on the amount and distribution of rainfall, as more than 60 per cent of the area under cultivation does not have access to irrigation. Due to this, there are wide yearly fluctuations in total output. Jaffrey Sachs (2010), Director, Earth Institute, Columbia University, USA stated that intensification of agriculture has brought in massive load of global headaches. He observed, nearly one –third of all green house gas emission can be traced back to the agriculture sector. He categorically stated that there is a heavy consumption of fresh water from under ground aquifers due to ecological unsound public policy like the supply of free electricity which resulted in over exploitation of aquifers in India in states like Punjab, Haryana, Western UP regions.

Food Security issues depend on availability, accessibility and affordability of food to all the people round the year. In this paper author explains the indicators which affect the status of food availability, accessibility and affordability. Food availability must be improved by providing the irrigational facilities. Accessibility will improve by the policies for enhancing minimum agricultural wages absorption of food by the better health facility and better transport and marketing networks. Human health depends on people having enough food and safe water, a decent home, protection against disasters, a reasonable income and good social and community relations. Climate change is projected to have mostly negative and adverse health impacts on many population groups, especially the poorest, in large areas of India. These could include direct health impacts such as heatstroke, and indirect impacts such as increased diarrhoea risk due to water contamination via flooding, or higher risk of mortality leading to large-scale loss of livelihoods. Temperature rise solar ultraviolet radiation can have several adverse health impacts on human beings. It may cause   encephalitis, and other eye related diseases like Cancer of Cornea, Cataract, Uveal melodrama, macular degeneration etc.. Its impacts on skin may surface in the form of malignant melanoma, Sunburn, Chronic sun damage and Photodermatoses. It can damage immunity by suppressing cell mediated immunity, increase susceptibility to infection, impairment of prophylactic immunization and activation of virus infection. Its other health hazard ramifications are caused by indirect effects of climate change like disruption in food supply, infectious disease, air pollution, loss of vegetation, land and water degradation etc.. Climate change also effects on heart, tuberculosis, breast cancer, prostate cancer and decreased risk of mental problem like schizophrenia etc..

The impact of climate change on soil quality, water resources, temperature and growing season’s duration and rising sea level directly affect the productivity of foodgrain.   Impact of changes in carbon dioxide in ecological environment also affects the yields and food production.  Agricultural production, a requirement for food security, also emits greenhouse gases. Emissions associated with land use change and land degradation are particularly important in developing countries, which are generally food-insecure. Climate change affects the quality and quantity of land and water resources available for production in agriculture and other climate dependent sectors like social forestry and fisheries .Poultry and pigs could be exposed to higher incidence of heat stress influencing productivity. Increase in disease transmission by faster growth rates of pathogens in the environment. Sea levels are projected to rise by around 0.4 m during the 21st century. Rising sea levels are associated with increased flooding, land loss in costal areas resulting in decreases in food supplies and increases in food prices. Impact of climate change on growing season length is estimated. Length of growing season is an important component of agricultural productivity. They also indicate   that these changes probably can affect food security in India.

Climate change is also affecting the natural systems like forest, river, agriculture, ponds, tanks etc. Our societies depend on food, fuel, and fiber and other services which are available in the  natural system. Climate Change, will make future water resources less predictable and complicated.  The process of watershed development consists in harvesting rainwater wherever it falls, regenerating the environment, increasing green cover and adopting sustainable land husbandry practices in the watershed.  It implies making bunds, digging trenches, building gullies etc in a way that will arrest the rapid water run off from hill slopes to the ground. This is necessary because during the days of rainfall, the tendency of water is to gush down the slopes and also take the top soil cover along with it. This means that there is no water conservation and precious fertile soil is lost due to erosion. When this flow is reduced or made to go through steps, water percolates into the ground at various spots and increases the underground water table. At the bottom of the hills, it collects to form water reservoirs. And while flowing down slowly it helps turn patches of land green.

The issue of climate change is very much linked to the living condition on the planet earth or better to say the very existence of life. It is very much related to the issue of food security which has been a problem of concern to humanity from very time immemorial. Hence, it is imperative for all countries whether developed, under developed or developing to join hands and make genuine, relentless and collective  efforts to contribute their best in protecting our environment other wise the environment will suffer and the  worst casualty will be, our development and overall our own very survival will be at serious stake. Development should never be at the cost of our environment. Developed countries should accept the harsh truth that they are more responsible and they can better afford, so they must play more active and productive role to protect the environment and the entire earth from natural disaster resulting out of human actions motivated by boundless greed.

Pic by: Mansoor Qadir, J&K