Photo credit: Stephen Morrison/Africa Practice for AusAID

Much has been written in the past few months about the December 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The success of the Agreement rests on the signatory Nation States achieving their proposed greenhouse gas reductions. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent stay of the Obama Administration’s “Clean Power Plan” — a core component of the U.S. plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — highlights the shaky foundation upon which the Paris Agreement rests. Nevertheless, many experts believe the Agreement represents the last best hope for avoiding catastrophic impacts from climate change, particularly from sea level rise and extreme weather events.  A critical threat from climate change that is rarely discussed and deserves more attention is the threat to global food security that will likely result from unchecked climate change.

A failure to fulfill the Paris Agreement commitments could result in dramatic increases in hunger and poverty throughout the world.  Although the impacts of climate change on agriculture will vary based on geographic location and other factors, there is widespread agreement that climate change will likely result in significant reduction in crop yields, increased food prices, and decreased food security for millions of people, particularly in the developing world. Crop yields are predicted to decrease by 10 to 25% globally, and up to a 40% in some regions, during the same timeframe that a growing population will raise the demand for agricultural production by approximately 60%.  Decresed agricultural productivity coupled with increased food prices resulting from climate change could cause millions of people to fall into poverty in the next 15 years.

The majority of food and agricultural-related impacts will be borne by the most vulnerable populations in developing countries. During the lead up to the Paris Agreement, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that if agriculture was not integrated in to climate change policies, there would be more hungry people in the world which would result in mass “climate migration.”  ” Although concerns with food security and agriculture played a minor role in the Agreement that emerged.  , the GHG emissions commitments in the Agreement will, if met, greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic impacts to food security. , But even under a best case scenario, climate impacts make it imperative to develop agricultural systems that are more adaptive and resilient. Policy choices today could dramatically influence whether future generations have adequate food and food security.

In a recent article, I  propose a program I call “Whole System Agricultural” certification that uses consumer preferences and market forces to encourage agricultural systems that are more resilient and better able to adapt to climate change.

In a forthcoming book  Professor Anel Du Plessis from the North-West University in South Africa and I have collected and edited contributions from scholars throughout the world, providing diverse perspectives on the likely impact of climate change on food security and offering potential solutions for adaptation.  Topics include climate change and: land grabbing in Africa, invasive species in Australia, adaptation of agricultural trade and investment rules, adaptation in smallholder agriculture in Kenya, water law, payment for ecosystems services, and genetically modified species.  The book will be published by Edward Elgar in 2016.  Stay tuned for more information.

Mary Jane Angelo

Mary Jane Angelo is a Professor of Law, Director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Program, , and Alumni Research Scholar at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also Affiliate Faculty in both the University of Florida School of Natural Resources and Water Institute. Professor Angelo has published extensively on a variety of environmental law topics including pesticide law, endangered species law, water and wetlands law, sustainable agriculture, the regulation of genetically modified organisms, and the relationship between law and science. Her articles have been published in the Texas Law Review, the Wake Forest Law Review, the George Mason Law Review, the Harvard Environmental Law Review, Ecology Law Quarterly, and Environmental Law. In 2013, she published two books: FOOD, AGRICULTURE, AND ENVIRONMENTAL LAW (with William S. Eubanks and Jason Czarnezki, Environmental Law Institute 2013) and THE LAW AND ECOLOGY OF PESTICIDES AND PEST MANAGEMENT (Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013).

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