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UN food agencies urge climate change action to avert hunger

Expressing their “deepest concern”, the three Rome-based UN Agencies – FAO, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development – warned today that climate change is a major challenge to world food security and will increase hunger and malnutrition unless immediate action is taken.

If we do not act now, climate change will increase the number of hungry people in the world.
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf
FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, speaking on behalf of the three agencies, told the UN Climate Change Conference here that extreme weather events are already having adverse effects on food security and that changes in the medium term would have further negative impacts.

“If we do not act now, climate change will increase the number of hungry people in the world,” he said. “Climate change is a major challenge to world food security.” FAO’s 2006 State of Food Insecurity Report estimated that 854 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition, including 820 million in developing countries.

Climate change to hit the most vulnerable

“Vulnerable people and food systems will be particularly affected,” Dr Diouf said. “People who are already vulnerable and food insecure are likely to become even more so.”

Three out of four of the world’s one billion poorest people live in the rural areas of developing countries and face immediate risks from increased crop failures and loss of livestock. More than 1.5 billion forest-dependent people, among the poorest in the world, are highly vulnerable too, as are 200 million people dependent on fisheries.

“It is paramount that we address food security concerns when discussing the challenges of climate change,” Dr Diouf declared, announcing that in June next year FAO will organize a high-level conference to address world food security and the challenges of climate change and bioenergy.

Strengthened resilience

Dr Diouf said immediate action was vital to increase the resilience of rural people to climate change and help them adapt to new conditions.

While efforts must be redoubled to ensure that a growing world population had access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, specific action to be deployed included: early warning systems; adaptation strategies; disaster risk- reduction activities; and hunger safety-net initiatives.

Sustainable forest management also offered opportunities for immediate mitigation and adaptation, Dr Diouf said. Deforestation was responsible for some 17 percent of global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions so that improved forest management could provide “comprehensive, rapid and effective action” while at the same time benefiting the rural poor and capturing environmental co-benefits.

Payments for environmental services and for carbon conservation and sequestration could be made to farmers living in fragile ecosystems, Dr Diouf suggested.

Increased investment

Integrated strategies and collaborative approaches are required to overcome the multiple threats of climate change, Dr Diouf said.

“Effective implementation will require increased investment in agricultural development and natural resources management at all levels.”

But trade-offs between the agriculture and energy sectors had to be carefully balanced.

FAO, IFAD and WFP pledged to use their knowledge, expertise, global field presence and investment programmes “to give our continued support to countries and to collaborate with our Member Countries and other partners, within and outside the United Nations, to ensure that the impacts of climate change do not exacerbate hunger and poverty”, Dr Diouf concluded.

High Level Conference

The High-Level Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy will be held in Rome from 3-5 June 2008.

The focus will be on how agriculture can continue to produce adequate quantities of food for the world’s growing population, and particularly the poor and vulnerable, in changing climatic conditions.

The Conference will address the specific challenges from climate and bioenergy for the food, agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.