05 October, 2022
Category : COP27 | tags:
A clean energy transition will improve global food security too
A transition from fossil fuels and biofuels to renewable energy and regenerative agriculture will alleviate the global food crisis. This year’s UN climate summit could help to kickstart the shift.
The COP27, on 6-18 November in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, comes amid the third global food crisis in just over a decade, and potentially the worst. This is driven by the impacts of COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, increased fossil fuel prices, and additional food supply disruptions from extreme weather.
Agriculture is a predominant sector across most of Africa, accounting for over two-thirds of jobs in the population. That means that a COP focused on Africa’s needs to adapt and build resilience to climate change impacts, and develop sustainably, will have to address the threats to agriculture and solutions for food security.
Here is what you need to know about the links between food systems, climate change and fossil fuels.
How are fossil fuels, the war in Ukraine, and the future of sustainable agriculture connected?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has laid bare the fragility of the centralised, fossil fuel-reliant food system, and the need for a more diverse, decentralised and nature-friendly system.
Global food prices rose by around 65% over the two years up to July, and by 12% since Russia first invaded. Logistical constraints in Ukraine are part of the problem, as Russia and Ukraine account for around a third of global wheat supplies. The other is the rise of fossil fuel prices, and the resulting spike in fertiliser prices. Fertiliser prices have more than tripled since mid-2020, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Producing more inorganic fertiliser linked to gas prices will worsen the problem. Instead, this is a moment to promote and invest in sustainable agricultural methods.
Sustainable farming has been shown to increase crop yields and pay off. In a study with 21 million smallholder farmers in China, average yields increased by around 11% over a decade, as fossil fuel fertilisers decreased by around one-sixth. However, farmers need education and training to make the transition.
How do climate change impacts and fossil fuel prices affect economic development and supply chains?
Climate change and high fossil fuel prices are driving hunger, especially in developing countries. This is constraining their development.
Climate change has already exposed millions of people to acute food insecurity, especially in parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America, small island states and the Arctic, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in February 2022. The agricultural sector already accounts for around a quarter on average of damage and losses from climate related disasters.
This year, Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered a rise in the cost of living, energy and food worldwide, compounded by extreme weather events such as heat and drought in China and locust swarms in Africa and Italy.
As a result, the number of people facing food insecurity more than tripled between 2017 and 2021 and could rise by another 17% this year due to the war in Ukraine, reaching 323 million people, according to the World Food Programme.
The problems will intensify without efforts to both stem climate change and adapt and build resilience to its impacts. A transition to sustainable and regenerative farming and more localised food systems can improve food security while also reducing the food and agriculture sector’s carbon footprint and supporting biodiversity.
How can renewable energy help to improve the global stability of food, energy, supply chains and national security?
Clean electrification can deliver energy and national security – without compromising food security.
The transition to flexible, decentralised renewable energy will reduce countries’ reliance on volatile fossil fuel imports, and provide access to energy in rural areas that are still disconnected. The electrification of transport especially – rather than a bump in biofuels – will also keep farmland to feed a growing population.
Biofuels demand is already set to rise by 5% in 2022, and 3% in 2023, due to the fuel price rise, according to the IEA. This comes as the cost of biofuel feedstock – primarily corn, sugar, vegetable oils and used cooking oil – hover around all-time highs.
The rise of biofuels is driving competition for cropland, with limited amounts of energy produced, according to the World Resources Institute. The US, for example, uses 30-40% of its corn for ethanol, which produces only 5% of the country’s transport fuel. Europe uses 10% of its cereal for fuel.
Relaxing or eliminating biofuels blending requirements is key to encouraging a shift to electrified transport and keeping land for food. As of May, 10 governments had looked at relaxing, delaying or postponing biofuels mandates because of high prices, according to the IEA. G7 countries including the UK and Germany this year considered temporary waivers.
What can governments commit to do at COP27 to stabilise food and energy systems?
The food and agriculture system will be at the centre of COP27. The Egyptian summit for the first time includes a thematic day for agriculture and food systems combined with adaptation – giving an indication of the Presidency’s intent to spotlight the need to shift to sustainable and regenerative agriculture and help developing countries adapt to climate change impacts.
COP27 can help to close the US$1.7 billion annual gap in funding for climate-resilient agriculture in Africa and the Middle East. To do that, the summit should deliver three key steps.
First, countries need to step up their climate action plans under the Paris Agreement and include specific indicators of how they will transform their food systems. Second, commitments made at COP26 by governments, businesses, investors, funders and others must be translated into implementation plans, underpinned by finance and monitoring and evaluation systems. Third, financiers must channel funding to initiatives that support climate-smart agricultural practices.
This will help to secure food supplies and address emissions from the sector, which account for 37% of the global total.