Climate change is increasing the frequency and occurrence of disasters such as floods and droughts, says the World Food Programme, the United Nations’ food assistance branch. According to the WFP, “Without considerable efforts made to improve people’s climate resilience, it has been estimated that the risk of hunger and malnutrition could increase by up to 20 percent by 2050.”
The WFP is the largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting global hunger. As global temperatures have continued to rise, the organization has increasingly warned about the dangers climate change poses to the world’s food supplies and its poorest citizens.
According to Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University, the UN’s latest report on global climate change “concludes with even higher confidence (95 percent) that the warming of the past century, and other associated climate changes, can only be explained by human activity, i.e. the burning of fossil fuels.”
In November 2014, the WFP released a detailed report on what the short- and long-term consequences of global warming will be. They predict reduced agricultural production, which could affect dietary diversity (this is already being observed in India and China, two of the three largest polluters on the planet). Climate change will also affect the suitability of land for crop production, changes in precipitation patterns, lower yields in some areas (resulting in higher food prices) and an uptick in pests and water pollution.
The WFP also notes two potential positive side effects to global warming: longer growing seasons due to increased temperatures and plant enrichment for those plants with the physiology to benefit from increased CO2 fertilization. However, the organization underlines that these effects will not offset the damage done. While advances in technology, CO2 fertilization and other factors have slowed the worst effects of global warming up to this point, more extreme weather and an ever-growing population will result in “higher vulnerability” and greater incidences of hunger and malnutrition worldwide.
In the last ten years, nearly 50 percent of WFP emergency and recovery operations have been devoted to helping people recover from climate-related disasters. WFP reports that these operations had a combined budget of $23 billion. In the last five years, about 40 percent of WFP operations have included activities that reduce disaster risk and help communities adapt to climate change.