December 10, 2015 | By

For Our National Security, Global Food Security Must Be Central to Climate Change Agreements

Flood-affected people raise their hands to receive free food being distributed by Indian Navy personnel in Chennai, India, December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

The stakes surrounding climate change are at their highest in years. As COP21 concludes this week in Paris, it’s critical that those policymakers involved remember that agriculture is uniquely impacted by a changing climate. In the United States, no other industry is so dependent on the weather for its success; worldwide, the stability of nations depends on the productivity of farms in drought- and flood-prone regions. Climate change threatens to exacerbate extreme weather events around the globe, undermining agriculture at home and abroad, food security, and the national security of the United States, its allies, and all nations that depend upon farmers to put food on their tables.

In its 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, the US Department of Defense made clear that climate change could have wide-ranging implications for the US national security due to social unrest spurred by reduced water availability, degraded agricultural production, higher food prices, damage to infrastructure, and changes in disease patterns around the world. Our nation has a strong interest in preventing the sorts of conflicts that can contribute to civil war or turn weakened states into sanctuaries for terror groups that pledge harm to the United States and its allies.

To say that food security underpins domestic security is hardly hyperbole. The food price spikes of 2008—caused by a combination of droughts and disease in grain-producing nations, rising oil prices, increased demand, inappropriate export controls, and falling global stocks—resulted in civil unrest in least 30 countries.

Importantly, civil unrest abroad doesn’t stay abroad. In Syria, much of that country’s ongoing crisis is partially owed to the drought that caused mass crop failures between 2006 and 2011. During that time, 1.5 million Syrian farmers became internal refugees, forced into cities already crowded with more than a million Iraqi refugees displaced by that country’s ongoing war. This friction compounded the ongoing issues of corruption, crowding, unemployment, and overall discontent. In 2011, tensions peaked, resulting in the 2011 Syrian uprising, the ongoing Syrian civil war, and the general collapse of that nation—which aided the emergence of ISIL, helped create the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, and has greatly destabilized global security.

But Syria is not unique. The Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan, and other desert regions will likely see increased periods without rain as global temperatures increase. As devastating droughts destroy agricultural livelihoods and send farmers fleeing to cities, the world risks further crises that jeopardize global security.

Closer to home, the continued success of US agricultural production depends on tackling climate change with a key understanding of the unique threats a changing climate poses to domestic agriculture. In 2015, the United States saw crippling drought in the West continue unabated; flooding in the Midwest wiped out entire farms’ harvests; and a warming climate benefits weeds, pests, and emerging crop and animal diseases that threaten to reduce yields and reverse the progress produced by modern agriculture.

In 2014, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs released a report called Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate which examined approaches to alleviate the impact of climate change on agriculture. We recommended that developed nations address food security through international aid, economic investment, and development programming. Research on climate change mitigation efforts must receive the funding, data, and collaboration they need to succeed. The United States and nations worldwide must also collaborate to develop and carry out plans to adapt to and mitigate a changing climate, for their own domestic prosperity, and for global security and stability

Given the threat to global agriculture, food security, and civil stability posed by climate change, it is imperative that any actions agreed upon in Paris this week address the special role climate change plays in agriculture. Doing so will promote food security and the continued wellbeing of farmers and those they support for years to come. 


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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