Carelessly designed climate change mitigation policies could negatively affect food security placing an additional 160 million people at risk of hunger by 2050, according to a new study published on 13 May in Nature Sustainability (1). Moreover, these adverse effects would have an associated cost of 0.18 per cent of the global GDP.
Many of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) interact, sometimes with considerable trade-offs – for instance, food security and climate change mitigation. For the first time, researchers estimated how climate change mitigation might affect food sources under several different scenarios. In addition, they examined the cost of avoiding such adverse side effects.
Food security is one of the major issues addressed by the SDGs. In particular, SDG2 aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” by 2030. On the other hand, SDG13 involves taking urgent action to combat climate change in order to meet the 1.5–2 degrees Celcius targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.
To gain more insights, the researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and Kyoto University, Ritsumeikan University, and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) in Japan investigated some of the possible trade-offs between food security and climate change mitigation.
They used a so-called multi-model assessment based on several computer simulations. Although the results varied quite significantly across the different scenarios, they suggest mismanaged mitigation policies could significantly increase the risk of hunger – an additional 130 to 280 million people could be at risk of hunger by 2050.
Further, the authors looked at the cost of “smart and inclusive climate policies” by exploring various economic alternatives, such as agricultural subsidies, food aid to low-income countries, and food aid only to populations at risk of hunger.
The increase in costs ranged from 0 to 0.46 per cent of GDP – extremely humble compared to the total costs of climate change mitigation strategies. Moreover, these costs could be further reduced, the authors note, by increased yields as a direct result of climate change mitigation efforts. Therefore, climate mitigation policies should be carefully designed considering the potential impacts on agriculture and land prices.
“The findings of the paper are central to understanding that we can reach very low climate targets together with sustainable land-use and agricultural development,” said Keywan Riahi, IIASA Energy Program Director and one of the authors of the report. Similar effects were reported in a previous paper published last year in Environmental Research Letters (2). The present study builds upon these earlier results by creating multiple alternative models.
According to Riahi, “climate policies need to go beyond carbon pricing, take into account distributional effects, and shield the poor. If properly managed, the costs of such policies will be relatively small.” Thus, tradeoffs between food security and climate change mitigation policies must be carefully balanced.
(1) Fujimori, S. et al. A multi-model assessment of food security implications of climate change mitigation. Nature Sustainability (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0286-2
(2) Fujimori, S. et al. Inclusive climate change mitigation and food security policy under 1.5°C climate goal. Environmental Research Letters (2018). DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/aad0f7.