August 8, 2014

Informed Public Policy Measures to Address Climate Change Impacts

Next Generation Delegation 2014 Commentary Series


By Felipe Jimenez, Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and 2014 Next Generation Delegate

In discussions of climate change and its impact on agricultural production and food security, some have suggested that climate change may have certain benefits to some producers in particular regions. Indeed, certain arguments suggest that rising levels of carbon dioxide as a result of climate change could improve agricultural production in places where it was previously stagnant. However, it is not clear that these potential positive effects will be enough to overcome the damage it will cause in other areas; weather volatility, also associated with climate change, is, without a doubt, costly and affects all aspects of agriculture. 

What is clear is that that all producers will need to prepare for unpredictability in production and commercial markets. Considering that the world’s population and its income will continue to grow, food markets may struggle to adapt and fail to satisfy increases in demand, thus increasing food prices. This situation is likely to affect the most vulnerable groups in particular.

To be sure, these issues are already affecting farmers and producers. Patrick F. O’Toole, President of Family Farm Alliance and Owner and Manager of Ladder Livestock, discussed the impact and unpredictability of climate change and weather volatility on agricultural production in terms of his own firsthand experience during the Global Food Security Symposium 2014 panel on Managing Risks Associated with Volatile Weather, Changing Climates, and Resource Scarcity. As a Wyoming rancher, he stated that, while he has experienced years with excessive rainfall in the past, he anticipates that the next years could actually be much drier, revealing a new set of challenges.

Moreover, while food prices have been increasing in the last decades for many reasons, such as growing population and use of biofuels to name a few, they are expected to rise even further in the next few decades as a consequence of climate change and weather volatility. According to Shenggen Fan, Director General of theInternational Food Policy Research Institute, by the year 2050 wheat prices are expected to increase 100 percent, corn prices by 50 percent and rice prices by 40 percent. This food price volatility often affects women and children, for whom the costs of malnutrition can be lifelong, most severely.

In addition, climate change is leading to higher atmospheric temperatures and more volatility in water supply, which can force the migration of pests and diseases to new, unprepared areas. The consequences for food security and agricultural development impose a challenging future for generations to come. In this context, it is a worldwide responsibility to take action to mitigate climate change and its harmful effects while ensuring sustainable production of food to reduce the risk of resource scarcity. This issue affects the whole population with social, economic, and health nuances, and thus should be tackled with the cooperation of the public and private sectors using innovative and sustainable production processes.

To achieve this goal, we ought to follow the advice of James Cameron,Chairman of Climate Change Capital: we must make informed public policies that decrease greenhouse gas emissions and value the natural environment. If we do not take urgent action, the economic losses and global instability as a result of climate change could be irreversible.

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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