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Extreme weather endangers food supplies worldwide

Extreme weather endangers food supplies worldwide

November 27, 2011

Research compiled by Oxfam shows extreme weather events shocked global food markets over the past year, contributing to soaring wheat prices and imperiling food supplies in many parts of the world. New warnings from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict such extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency and severity without urgent action on climate change.

“From the Horn of Africa and South East Asia to Russia and Afghanistan, a year of floods, droughts, and extreme heat has helped push tens of millions of people into hunger and poverty,” said Kelly Dent, Oxfam spokesperson at the UN climate talks in Durban. “As climate change gathers pace agriculture will suffer. Governments must act now in Durban to protect our food supply and save millions of lives.”

“Canada must get serious about climate change,” said Mark Fried, policy coordinator for Oxfam Canada. “We are one of the top ten greenhouse gas polluters in the world. The costs of our inaction are being paid by the millions of vulnerable people going hungry today.”

Price spirals

Oxfam’s briefing Extreme weather endangers food security 2010-11: A grim foretaste of future suffering and hunger? explains how several extreme weather events have contributed to food insecurity at global, regional and local levels since 2010:   

  • Severe drought in the Horn and East Africa has pushed 13 million people over the edge. In July, sorghum prices in Somalia were up to 393% higher, and maize prices in Ethiopia and Kenya up to 191% and 161% higher respectively than five-year average prices.
  • Drought and fires following a massive heat wave in Russia and Ukraine destroyed much of the 2010 harvest and triggered a 60% to 80% increase in global wheat prices in just three months. By April 2011, wheat prices were 85% higher on international markets than the year before.
  • Heavy monsoon rainfall and multiple typhoons in Southeast Asia have killed more than 1,100 people and helped send the price of rice up 25% in Thailand and up 30% in Vietnam compared to the previous year.
  • In Afghanistan serious drought helped send prices of wheat and wheat flour in July 2011 up to 79% higher than the year before in affected areas.


Food shortages

While it is difficult to attribute a specific weather-related disaster to climate change, Oxfam warns that increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events will compound the projected impacts of climate change on crop yields and food prices, creating food shortages, destabilizing markets and precipitating price spikes.  The consequences could be catastrophic for the poorest and most vulnerable who spend up to 75 percent of their income on food,

“When extreme weather makes local or regional prices spike, poor people often face a double shock,” said Dent. “They have to cope with higher food prices at a time when extreme weather may have also killed their livestock, destroyed their home or farm, or stripped them of their livelihood. If we don’t act decisively in Durban, this toxic mix of higher prices and lower purchasing power will likely grow much worse.”

Recommendations for Durban

Oxfam is calling for negotiators to make progress on three key challenges. First they must build-on, and not roll-back, the existing legally-binding regime by securing the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol and an agreement that negotiations must conclude in a comprehensive legally-binding agreement for all countries.

Second, governments must close the gap between pledged emissions cuts and those needed to avoid catastrophic global warming. An unprecedented range of countries have made pledges– and for the first time, developing countries are promising more than developed countries. Still the total efforts are insufficient. Additional emissions cuts are needed before 2020, if we are to keep climate change below the 2°C target agreed in Cancun (let alone the 1.5°C needed). All countries must be prepared to do their fair share.

Finally, governments must deliver the long-term finance to help poor people cope with climate change. By 2013 the Green Climate Fund must be up and running. The Transitional Committee’s recommendations should be adopted in full, and attempts to re-open these negotiations must be resisted. Vital provisions that ensure developing countries will control how money is spent at the national level, and that the needs and voices of women will be at the heart of the fund, must be protected.

There must be no gap in funding after the $30 billion commitment made in Copenhagen to “Fast Start Finance” ends in 2012, and revenues must be progressively scaled-up to fulfill the promise to deliver $100 billion per year by 2020. A deal is possible in Durban to generate substantial new revenues from a fair carbon charge on the high and rising emissions from international shipping and aviation.

“Durban will not deliver everything that is required of an effective global response to climate change,” said Dent.  “But governments must build on the past, by continuing Kyoto, agreeing to further slash emissions before 2020, and mobilizing the finance poor people need now.”

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For more information:

Oxfam Canada
Media Relations
Juliet O’Neill


Contacts in Durban

Ben Grossman-Cohen

Georgette Thomas

Nthateng Mhlambiso


Note to editors:
The Oxfam briefing is available here


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