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Meeting Paris Climate Goals Could See More People Hungry

Physics World

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.

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