Climate change means just that: we must change with the climate

Under climate change, human diets across the globe, too, will change. This photo shows a typical Mozambican dish of tilapia, cabbage and potato with coconut milk. Photo: F. Milovac (World Fish)
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Nutrition rests not just on a steady food supply. The quality of foods and diets is equally important.

As we get close to the UN Climate Conference (COP21), calls are mounting for serious commitments to addressing key drivers of climate change (greenhouse gas emissions) and to protecting key affected sectors (agriculture). While necessary, those foci are not sufficient if we take equally seriously the goal of ending malnutrition by 2030 – one of the key agendas agreed to by world leaders for the new Sustainable Development Goals. Nutrition isn’t determined just by food supply. The quality of foods and diets matters just as much, combined with actions to ensure clean water, access to health care and more. In other words, protecting global food output from climatic threats (while critically important), is not the only commitment needed for improving nutrition.

It took the world food price crises of 2008 and 2011 to force policymakers to refocus on the fundamental building blocks of development: agriculture, energy, water, prices, and the complex ways through which these shape food systems and people’s nutrition. Commodity price volatility was compounded by unpredictable policy responses, while weather shocks were mirrored by oil price scares. A new normal emerged. Today, we have higher real prices of many commodities than in 2007. In response, government and donor investments in agriculture productivity surged.

But actions need to enhance diets and resolve child and adult malnutrition are lacking. Of course there will be serious climate impacts on farming, through more unpredictability of rains and temperatures, more climate-driven shocks, and the migration of pests and diseases into unprepared agricultural ecosystems. Calls for climate-smart agriculture are therefore all the rage.

But implications for diet quality and nutrition have yet to sink in. Nicholas Stern has argued that “climate change and nutrition are natural partners in the quest for sustainable development.” Using nutrition as a lens through which to promote climate-smart policies would move us beyond the goal of ‘producing more food’ toward securing more diversified, more efficient food systems as a whole. The Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition argues that we need to promote productivity of affordable nutrient-rich foods and protect the nutrient quality of crops in the context of nutrient-degrading atmospheric conditions. Innovations are also needed in food storage, processing, packaging and marketing, wherever possible leading to reduced carbon emissions along the value chain.

In other words, to secure real gains for nutrition in the context of climate change, thinking about adaption and policy prioritisation has to move beyond the farm-gate. COP21 has the chance to link climate-focused actions with food system resilience by paying genuine attention to higher quality of global diets and nutrition. Will it?

Learn more

Download: Policy brief 'Climate-Smart Food Systems for Enhanced Nutrition' (pdf)

Download: Food and Agriculture Organization: 2015 Climate Change and Food Systems report (pdf)

Download: Global Nutrition Report (IFPRI)

Downlowd: Lloyd's 2015 Food System Shock report (pdf)

Read blog story: "Foster Climate-Smart Agriculture" (World Bank)

Visit: United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda for 2030