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Meeting Paris climate goals could see more people hungry

30 Jul 2018
Photo of maize. Courtesy: iStock/feellife
Courtesy: iStock/feellife

The UN’s Paris Agreement is currently the most comprehensive global effort to limit climate change. But some of the land-use measures that would help meet the agreement’s objectives could slow the decline of global hunger. That’s according to researchers in Japan, who have proposed a set of food security policies.

“People who are involved in climate change research, its policy making, and international negotiation are mainly considering climate change, but more attention should be paid to the unintended consequences of climate change mitigation,” says Shinichiro Fujimori of Kyoto University, Japan.

Rates of hunger in developing nations have declined in recent decades. Long periods of relative political stability along with economic growth have seen the number of people experiencing hunger fall by 184 million since 1990, to some 795 million in 2015, even as population has increased. However, Fujimori and colleagues discovered that certain measures consistent with the objectives of the Paris Agreement could put this trend at risk.

Signed in 2015, the Paris Agreement aims to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Some of the most important measures that could help meet this goal relate to land use, including re-planting trees in areas recently cleared, and increasing biofuels production. Ultimately, note Fujimori and colleagues, many of these actions would take place on former agricultural land.

With less space available for food production as a result, the researchers predict that an increase in food prices could follow. Without preventative measures, in a 2 °C scenario an additional 84 million people could be at risk of hunger by 2050.

What’s more, naïve mitigation policies such as simply pricing greenhouse gas emissions could increase the cost of agricultural commodities, Fujimori and colleagues write in a paper in Environmental Research Letters, because greenhouse gas emissions generated by their production are penalized. “Carbon pricing without consideration of the effects on specific sectors can be a threat for low-income people,” says Fujimori.

Fujimori and colleagues advocate that the Paris Agreement must incorporate global food security policies to avoid adverse side-effects. Among the measures they suggest are increased international aid from more developed nations, taxes on biofuels, and a reallocation of income to less developed nations to account for a lower income from agriculture.

The team believes these changes would not significantly impact the costs of climate change mitigation. The suggested food security policies would likely require less than 0.1% extra expenditure globally, socioeconomic analysis revealed, compared with a currently-estimated welfare loss of 3.7%. Additionally, international aid would account for just 0.5% or so of high-income nations’ total GDP.

Fujimori hopes that his team’s research will contribute to deliberation about the effects climate change mitigation will have on global society.

“This study is one of the examinations trying to figure out multi-sectoral policy effects,” he says. “This type of research is related to a broader sense of sustainable development and is now highly demanded. We hope that this study’s approach can contribute to stimulating thinking about other sectors’ similar research.”

The team reported the results in Environmental Research Letters.

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