How Does a 2⁰C Increase in Global Temperature Impact Food Security?

Climate change, food security821 million people.

Nearly 821 million people across the world are food insecure, according to the 2018 State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This means that they do not have adequate access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy life. Evidence indicates that this number will likely increase if the global atmospheric temperature continues to rise.

The Guardian recently reported on a study by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A on the impacts of allowable temperature rise of 1.5⁰C and 2⁰C. It found that vulnerability to food insecurity increases more at 2°C global warming than at 1.5°C, due to climate-induced drought and precipitation changes. Of all natural hazards, the SOFI report highlights that “floods, droughts and tropical storms affect food production the most. Drought causes more than 80 percent of the total damage and losses in agriculture.”

Maximum temperature, the percentage of days with extreme daily temperatures, the number of consecutive dry days, and the maximum rainfall in a 5-day period were measured to reach temperature impact conclusions. At a 2°C warmer world, the land areas mostly warm by more than 2°C. In some regions, like North America, China, and Europe, the daily high temperature increases could be double that of the globe on average. Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, Australia and northeast South America are projected to have increased dry spell lengths. Rainfall is projected to increase over many regions including parts of southeast Asia, northern Australia and the east coast of the

The impacts on food security at an increase of 1.5°C global temperature are smaller than at 2°C. Drought and flooding are more extreme at an increase in global temperature of 2°C. The SOFI report noted the number of extreme climate-related disasters has doubled since the early 1990s. These disasters harm agricultural productivity contributing to shortfalls in food availability, hiked up food prices, and the loss of income reducing people’s access to food.

Why are these temperatures important? The Paris Agreement’s goal is to keep the global temperature rise this century “well below 2⁰C” above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5⁰C. This goal is outlined in Art 2 of the PA and aligns with the UNFCCC’s Art 2 objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Current IPCC reports model proposed mitigation pathways on limiting warming to 2°C. In early October, the IPCC will publish a report that remodels needed mitigation outcomes based on a 1.5°C limit. FAO has sounded the alarm for why less warming is critical to our food security and underscored why this new IPCC report is needed.  At COP24, Parties will be faced with this new evidence as they negotiate the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement.




Fracking: COP21 as “the scoreboard, not the game”

Panel for Side Event on Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground: the International Movement to Ban Fracking

Panel for Today’s Side Event on Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground: the International Movement to Ban Fracking

“If you’re looking for good way to heat up the earth fast, poke holes in the earth and let methane pour out.” This is how Bill McKibben of described hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at today’s side event on the international movement to ban fracking. Sandra Steingraber of EcoWatch pointed out how both methane and CO2 have to be considered in the fight against climate change. The side event’s moderator asked McKibben how to use what is going on at COP21 to put pressure on the United States and other countries to get a better outcome on fracking. McKibben said that COP21 is “the scoreboard, not the game. The main thing to do is come out of here ready to take on the next set of fights and next set of activism.”

In September, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report on fracking in the United States entitled “Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground.” The report addresses the president’s authority to stop new leasing of federally managed and publicly owned fossil fuels from extraction, start withdrawing lands and oceans from availability, and keep carbon reserves in the ground. Panelists focused on fracking in California, mentioning the Los Angeles Times article on California farmers using water recycled from oil fields to irrigate crops. The article highlights concerns about toxins in the recycled water contaminating crops. At the conclusion of the side event, panelists urged participants to reach out to elected officials regarding the impact of fracking on climate, water, air, food, and public health.

Food Waste on the Chopping Block


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Last Wednesday, one week before the Untied Nations General Assembly meeting in New York concerning sustainable development goals, the USDA and EPA divulged a bold new goal. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the nation’s first food waste reduction goal: to cut U.S. food waste in half by 2030. The federal government intends to collaborate with charitable and faith based organizations, the private sector, and state and tribal governments to work toward this cut.

Setting such an ambitious target at the federal level is a big step forward for environmental efforts, particularly those pertaining to climate change. Food waste has been on the rise for years—one study estimates a 50% increase since 1974. Currently 30-40% of food produced in the U.S. for human consumption is lost or wasted each year.


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Food waste negatively impacts the environment because water, land, energy, and labor capital resources are expended to grow, produce, and transport food that ultimately feeds no one.  Uneaten, often wholesome, food comprises the largest percentage of municipal solid waste in U.S. landfills—totaling approximately 18%. Food waste rapidly decomposes and releases methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) with 21 times more climate affecting potency than carbon dioxide. The 3rd largest source of methane is landfills.

Current federal initiatives relating to food waste reduction include the U.S. Food Waste Recovery Challenge and the EPA’s Food Waste Recovery Program. These initiatives encourage organizations and business to prevent food waste via “prevention, donation, and composting.”

Moving forward, the EPA and USDA plan to rally private sector actors to set their own reduction goals. However, the EPA and USDA will most likely also need to hone in on inefficiencies at the production, retail, and consumer levels of the food system to effect the change they seek.

Concerned legal scholars and food activists have campaigned for improving date labeling policies, permanently extending tax deductions for all businesses donating food to be repurposed, revamping the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, and promulgating mandatory composting laws. Such solutions would certainly impact food waste at the consumer and retail level, where most food waste occurs.

As the December climate change negotiations near, the U.S. has an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to national climate change mitigation efforts by working to reduce GHG emissions. Although the U.S. did not include food waste reduction as part of its submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), reducing food waste could contribute to the country’s GHG mitigation pledges. Hopefully momentum will build around the problem of food waste in America and inspire progressive policies that will reflect U.S. willingness to work with other negotiating parties.