Climate change will severely affect the ability of humans to feed themselves due to existing resources being exploited at unprecedented and unsustainable rates, as per a new UN report. The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, called Climate Change and Land, bluntly states that a global food crisis is impending if serious efforts are not made to tackle the problem of global warming. The window to take action is closing soon, it warns.

Released last month, the report has inputs from more than 100 experts from 52 countries. As per its findings, nearly half a billion people already live in places that are turning into desert and the Earth’s soil is being lost 10 to 100 times faster than it is forming. With extreme weather events and natural calamities increasing in frequency, multiple, cascading effects on food production such as soil degradation, crop disruption, and alteration of crop-growing seasons can prove disastrous. The global food supply will shrink rapidly leading to food shortages on a massive scale, thanks to the inter-connectedness of global trade. This means that several regions, at once, may find themselves at the receiving end of a severe food crisis. Higher amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will reduce nutrients in food and harm livestock. As always, people in poor countries and below poverty line will be affected the most. This is likely to increase migration rates across borders, causing social and economic tension.

Since 1961, global population growth and changes in food and energy consumption have resulted in unprecedented rates of land and freshwater use, with agriculture responsible for a significant portion of it. Agriculture, forestry, and other land-use activities accounted for 23 per cent of total net anthropogenic GHG emissions during 2007-–2016, directly contributing to global warming. An increasingly warming planet means greater food insecurity. As the report states, climate change has negative effects on agriculture but agriculture, too, is exacerbating climate change.

The report suggests several ways to mitigate the looming food crisis, such as protecting rainforests and wetlands, drastically overhauling land use, increasing land productivity, wasting less food, and less consumption of meat. However, it cautions that some measures are limited in their intended effects and protecting food supply and combating emissions may not always be in lockstep. For instance, while planting trees helps reduce GHGs, it could also increase food prices by pushing out crops and livestock onto less productive land. The report advocates a mix of policies to address the challenges of implementing sustainable land management, such as weather and health insurance, social protection and adaptive safety nets, contingent finance funds, universal access to early warning systems, etc. Indigenous knowledge and women empowerment are other critical factors that will help in sustainable agricultural practices as well as increased food security.