A Look Back at the Debates on Climate Change and Food Scarcity in 2010

By Alison Withers

2010 was a turbulent year for people all over the world as indecision about climate change, problems for the global economy, food price volatility and extreme weather events continued.

While ordinary people continued their daily struggles with rising food and fuel prices, job uncertainty and fears for their futures in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis news headlines seemed to suggest that there was little sign of any sense of urgency or common agreement on any of the big economic and environmental issues confronting the planet.

The UN had named 2010 its Year of Biodiversity and pointed out there would be profound economic impacts to countries if efforts were not made to halt if. The message was reinforced by scientists at the independent International Institute for Environment Development, who said that biodiversity was key not just to life on Earth, but to economies and cultures, and "for the poor, who often depend directly on land and sea for subsistence, it is literally a lifeline."

Only a month previously in Copenhagen the annual climate change talks had all but collapsed and it was plain there was much that urgently needed to be done but little optimism that politicians would rise to the challenges of agreeing on action to tackle this issue, or the unequal distribution of food and other resources that had pushed the numbers of people either starving or suffering from extreme malnutrition above 1 billion for the first time.

During the year the Haiti earthquake, extreme heat in Russia and then the enormous damage caused across Pakistan and China by the monsoon deluge suggested that the climate was becoming increasingly unstable.

The resulting crop losses and fears of food scarcity arguably contributed to speculation on commodity prices for staples like wheat and rice while at the same time agricultural production was stagnating.

The prices of basic foods consequently continued to climb while governments, particularly in the "West" introduced tough spending cutbacks to try to recover from the huge budget deficits that had resulted from their earlier actions to try to contain the global economic crisis and prevent a total collapse of financial institutions.

It is difficult for an individual citizen, wherever they are in the world, to have any sense of perspective about such big issues, although inevitably they notice the impacts in their daily lives.

So at the end of the year, where are we?

There is growing consensus that there is a connection between climate change and food production, which has to increase and that agriculture needs to be sustainable, protecting the land and the environment for the future.

The next climate change talks in Cancun in November ended on a more positive notes with an agreement that efforts to protect forests, to provide a fund for the developing world to protect their environments and that the maximum global warming should be no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

In December, a report, called Food Security, Farming, and Climate Change to 2050: Scenarios, Results, Policy Options, from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) highlighted the connections between food security, poverty and climate change, stressing the need to address poverty today in order to help the poor in developing countries achieve food security and adapt to climate change.

It also found that improving crop productivity can counteract the negative effects of climate change on food production, prices, and access. International trade will also be crucial to offsetting changes in the production and prices of key food commodities. In January the results of a year-long piece of research for the Dept for Business, Innovation and Skills will be released.

Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures will use leading edge scientific and other evidence and futures analysis to identify coming issues and possible policy options for the future of food and farming. One of its key objectives will be considering how new science, policies and interventions could best address future challenges and the practicalities of realising those policies and interventions.

Is it too much to hope that among these will be the new low-chem agricultural products from the biopesticides developers, harmonising the processes of licensing biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers and making them available affordably to the millions of small and subsistence farmers across the world struggling to grow crops and protect their land with sustainable farming?

These efforts to Identify the issues and solutions are one thing. The question is whether concrete action that would end forever the inequalities that lead to malnutrition and starvation is quite another will then follow.

Alison Withers
Article by Alison Withers
A look back over 2010 and whether there has been any progress in arriving at common agreement on tackling climate change, food price rises, food shortages and sustainable farming with low-chem agricultural products from biopesticides developers from Ali Withers. www.agraquest.com.

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