GROWING DISRUPTION: Climate change, food, and the fight against hunger

The world faces a real and imminent risk of major setbacks in efforts to
combat hunger because of climate change. That risk is not a remote future
threat. It is emerging today and will intensify over the coming decades.
Using the accepted four pillars of food security – availability, access,
utilisation, and stability – this issue brief draws on research and on Oxfam‟s
programme experience around the world to assess how climate change is
likely to disrupt each of these four elements.1 The paper sets out how climatic
instability in the form of more extreme and volatile weather is already
undermining food security. It also shows how in the absence of urgent action,
it will load far more significant challenges onto already stressed food
systems.
 

Greenhouse gas emissions are changing the world‟s climate by trapping
heat, warming the oceans and the atmosphere, altering regional climates,
and creating increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather. The probability
of extreme weather events is increasing. The odds of an extremely hot
northern hemisphere summer were about one in 300 during the period 1951
to1980, but increased to nearly one in ten by 1981 to2010.3 If the remainder
of the 21st century unfolds like its first decade, we will soon experience
climate extremes well outside the boundaries of human experience, ever
since agriculture was first developed.
Despite global recognition that warming must be kept below the critical 2°C
threshold, emissions are rising rapidly, and much higher levels of warming
are likely. The earth's atmosphere has just reached a carbon dioxide (CO2)
concentration of 400 parts per million for the first time in about three million
years. The last time levels were so high, global temperatures were 2–3°C
warmer than they are today, and sea levels were up to 25 metres higher.4
 

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