Climate Change, Food Security, and Geopolitics

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its forecasts for staple grain harvests. The news was not good. America’s worst drought since 1956 is now set to impose suffering on a much wider segment of the world’s poor. Even in good times, the world’s poorest devote a majority of their monthly budget to food. As the reserves of basic staples decline and prices begin to rise – as they did so remarkably in 2007-2008 – families face tougher choices about school fees, caloric intake, and other essential needs.

What do these recent development have to do with global climate change? Probably a great deal. Droughts have occurred since time immemorial, but the frequency and intensity of droughts is likely changing with global warming. Long-term climatological models – those that forecast out 50 years or more – indicate greater extremes of precipitation, both in terms of spatial pattern, and across years. This year’s drought in the U.S. is not at all the worst case scenario for global food security. Areas least able to cope with intense, widespread droughts are those most likely to see long-term transformations of their regional climates. South Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa are forecast to become drier and more prone to debilitating droughts over the next decades. These regions have the fastest population growth rates in the world, and South Asia and Africa have few financial resources available to mitigate the effects of these droughts.

Countries like Mali, Chad, and Pakistan still have more than half of their population in agriculture. It is not realistic for these agrarian societies to abruptly shift to urbanized, industrialized economies and societies as a way of addressing new regional climates. Perhaps bio-technology will be of some help. Absent concerted action on global climate change, many of the world’s most fragile states are now staring at more frequent and intense droughts that will bring humanitarian crises and exacerbate other political tensions.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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