Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World

Climate Change Endangers Food Security Worldwide

“Extreme weather like the droughts in Russia, China and Brazil and the flooding in Pakistan and Australia [in 2010] have contributed to a level of food price volatility we haven’t seen since the oil crisisof 40 years ago. Unfortunately, this could be just a taste of things to come because in the next few  decades the build-up of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere could greatly increase the risk of  droughts, flooding, pest infestation and water scarcity for agriculture systems already under  tremendous stress.”   — John Beddington, UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser (March, 2011)

Already, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 1 billion people are starving and another 2.5 billion are malnourished.

“Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced,” as I argued in the journal Nature.  Oxfam has been one of the leaders in making this case (see Oxfam Predicts Climate Change will Help Double Food Prices by 2030: “We Are Turning Abundance into Scarcity”).

On the eve of the international climate talks in Durban, Oxfam has released a new report that opens with Beddington’s quote and warns:

Climate change is likely to have a pernicious effect on food production in two main ways.  Firstly, slow onset changes in mean temperatures and precipitation patterns are expected to put downward pressure on average yields.  Added to this will be crop losses resulting from more frequent and intense extreme weather events.

Research to date has focused almost exclusively on the first impact, modeling the extent of long-run average price rises in the absence of volatility….

But this paints only a partial picture.  More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilizing markets and precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the structural price rises predicted by the models.  One need not rely on imagination to understand how this could play out for the world’s poorest people.  Looking at the toll extreme weather events are taking on global food security since 2010 alone paints an alarming picture.

The whole report is worth reading, but here is their summary along with recommendations for Durban:

Durban climate talks must deliver action to prevent spiraling hunger

In the last year extreme weather events shocked global markets contributing to soaring wheat prices and imperiling food security in many parts of the world, according to research compiled by Oxfam at the start of the Durban climate talks.

This year could be a grim foretaste of what is to come as new warnings from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency and severity without action to tackle 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. “This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace and agriculture feels the heat. Governments must act now in Durban to protect our food supply and save millions from slipping into hunger and poverty.”

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

  • In an area of chronic vulnerability and political conflict, severe drought in the Horn and East Africa has pushed over 13 million people into crisis. 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 versus the 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 about 25% and 30% in Thailand and Vietnam respectively versus the previous year.
  • In Afghanistan serious drought helped send prices of wheat and wheat flour in July 2011 up to 79% higher in affected areas over their levels a year before.

While it is difficult to attribute a specific weather-related disaster to climate change, the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as those seen this year is set to increase due to climate change. For the poorest and most vulnerable who spend up to 75 percent of their income on food, this could have catastrophic consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs in a desperate bid to feed themselves.

“When a weather event drives local or regional price spikes 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. This toxic mix of higher prices and lower purchasing power has driven many people into crisis this year. If we don’t act in Durban, this pattern could become even worse.”

Recommendations for Durban

Oxfam is calling for negotiators to make progress on three key challenges.

1. They must decide that the only choice is a legally-binding climate change regimeThe Kyoto Protocol is the bed-rock of international efforts to tackle climate change. It is vital that Durban builds-on, and does not roll-back, the existing regime by securing the continuation of Kyoto and an agreement that negotiations must conclude as soon as possible in a comprehensive legally-binding agreement for all countries.

2. Governments must move decisively to close the emissions gap. An unprecedented range of countries have made pledges of emissions cuts – and for the first time, it is developing countries that are pledging to cut by more than developed countries, compared to their projected levels. Still the total efforts are insufficient to avoid catastrophic global warming. In Durban governments must agree to increase their emissions cuts before 2020, after which it will be too late 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 of the global effort needed.

3. Governments must deliver the long-term finance to help poor people tackle climate change. By 2013 the Green Climate Fund must be up and running. The recommendations made by the Transitional Committee to design the fund should be adopted in full, and attempts by the US or anyone else 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.

But the fund cannot become an empty shell. The Durban climate talks must ensure that developed country promises to deliver $100 billion per year by 2020 become a reality. Governments must ensure there is no gap in funding after the $30 billion commitment made in Copenhagen to “Fast Start Finance” ends in 2012, and that revenues will be progressively scaled-up thereafter. 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, which governments should seize.

“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, planning for a future legal deal to further slash emissions before 2020, and by mobilising the finance poor people need now to cope with climate change.”

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18 Responses to Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World

  1. Gail Zawacki says:

    As usual, they are idiotically leaving out a huge factor causing annual agricultural crop yield and quality to diminish. Tropospheric ozone, the result of burning fuel emissions, is toxic to vegetation. It’s incredibly stupid to not inform the public and policy makers about this existential threat – because if we stopped burning fuel – especially ethanol and other biofuels, which are WORSE than fossil fuels in terms of ozone precursors – we could salvage our supply of food, at least for a while.

    “Tropospheric Ozone Poses a Rising Threat to Yield Stability in Rice: Tolerance Mechanisms and Underlying Genetic Factors”.


    Invited Mini-Review: Rice (Oryza sativa L.) is the major staple food for most of the developing countries in Asia, whose populations are predicted to steadily increase in this century. However, global change will put increasing pressure on crop production, as it is associated with a range of abiotic stress factors that limit crop yields. One such stress factor is tropospheric ozone (O3), whose rising background concentrations are a consequence of rising emissions of precursor gases such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Surface O3 levels that exceed the critical threshold beyond which yield declines are expected are now common in many rice growing areas of South and East Asia and climate models predict further increases for the next three decades. It is therefore imperative to assess the potential to develop new breeding lines with improved tolerance to ozone exposure. This review summarizes the current state of research on the effect of ozone on rice, focusing on recent efforts in the breeding for ozone tolerance. Moreover, novel data are presented that characterize physiological and agronomic features of previously reported quantitative trait loci (QTL) for ozone tolerance, including two QTLs influencing leaf bronzing (OzT3 and OzT9) and one QTL influencing dry weight (OzT8). In addition, the first ozone response data of ‘IR64’, the most widely-grown tropical rice cultivar in South and South-east Asia, is presented, including data on photosynthetic performance and yield loss under season-long ozone exposure. link here:

  2. Leif says:

    Hungry and starving people often intensify conflict between ethnic groups within national borders leading to genocide and civil war and survival of the “fittest.” Just imagine Texas and surrounding areas should the drought continue for a few more years.

  3. Gail Zawacki says:

    This is the first of 10 segments available on youtube that encapsulate the entire documentary, “A State of Mind”:

    We need to think, about food, about population – and the constructs of politics, and society. This series will raise some fascinating questions.

  4. Caruben says:

    Hey not to detract from the seriousness of this post but Joe take a look at this cartoon about climate denial from It’s very funny:

  5. Interesting Times says:

    Mega-cynical view: The one thing that might make a large-scale nuclear conflict unlikely is that hungry and starving people wouldn’t want to irradiate the very food/water supply they’re trying to get for themselves. Ergo, whoever develops a weapon that quickly and efficiently kills people en masse – without harming anything else – will “win”.

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    I read all these reports about food and water scarcity that’s already happening, and then I make the mistake of talking to people here in the US and finding out that they have no bloody idea any of it is happening. And that’s not an exaggeration, as others on this site probably know all too well — they have no concept at all that such suffering is happening or why. And when I tell them, almost every time they either reject it outright or want to know if there will be any impacts to them personally. (“But… that can’t happen here… right?”)

    This immense and total disconnect is frustrating, deeply depressing, and the biggest single barrier to getting the kind of public policy change we desperately need. Instead of worrying or even knowing about these real world, life and death issues, far too many Americans are driving their SUVs on unnecessary trips while talking on their latest model smart phones, then dashing home and turning on their billboard-size TVs and complaining about all the idiots mauling each other at Black Friday sales.

    We have somehow transformed into brainless, heartless, myopic, greedy consuming machines, permanently attached to the corporate teat.

    There are days I don’t even recognize my country or what we’ve become.

  7. Mike Roddy says:

    Texas has a violent, macabre culture. The Texas Museum in Austin features famous Texans, with separate exhibits for their gun collections. The Alamo, where all the Texans died, was the perfect battle, and considered holy ground.

    They already have the weapons for the future:
    assault rifles and shotguns, which leave fields and pastures untouched. Urban cowboys from Dallas and Amarillo will invade and occupy Missouri and Nebraska by 2060, and survival of the fittest will rule. Strangely, Texans, most of whom deny climate change, are equipped for that world.

  8. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    We are producing nations of peoples with absolutely nothing to loose. Vast groups within the nation, with nothing to loose.

    Have you no concept of just how incredibly dangerous this is?

    This mainstream media led by the Murdoch empire is enabling a suicidal level of group think, even among those who see parts of the problem. Remember the group think prior to Pearl Harbour, this is so much worse.

    Our society is going off a cliff and we will not even know what happened. Out of the chaos something better might eventually arise, but history would suggest not.

    Study up on Force Majeures you will hear a lot more about them in all sorts of industries.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    We can be certain that research into just such weapons is proceeding apace. South Africa was well into it, seeking ‘ethnically precise’ weapons. I have expected some novel disease, that, mysteriously, only kills the ‘useless eaters’ in the poor world, to emerge for some time, but I’m a pessimistic realist.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    In late market capitalism, those groups who are being excluded from the good life number in the hundreds of millions in the rich world alone. Everywhere you look the rich are pillaging societies, and the rest are being made to pay for it by having their and their childrens’ lives ruined. This has been getting rapidly worse since the ‘end of history’ in 1989, when the global elite, imagining, that, with the demise of Communism, they had nothing left to fear and could treat the rabble as they wished, set out on an undisguised program to establish a global neo-feudal New World Order. There is in truth a simple choice for humanity. Destroy this vile system before it destroys humanity, or sit back and watch humanity go over the cliff, and very soon.

  11. John McCormick says:

    Mulga, a brilliant comment.

    You have put a time and cause for the rise of the oligoptupus. The fall of the Soviet Union did change the face of the world and opened the doors of globalization.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    Greg Page, CEO of Cargill, the food industry giant, gave an interview to CNN in October 2011 in which CNN broached the subject of climate change.

    And then there’s climate change. It’s hard to think of an organization anywhere in the world with a bigger stake in understanding potential disruptions to the food supply wrought by global warming than Cargill. Page does not disagree, although his take may surprise you. “Clearly the volatility can be an opportunity,” he says, acknowledging that sharp price swings can play to Cargill’s vaunted trading expertise. Then he adds, “The big part of our business is the physical handling of tens of millions of tons of food. If we believe the world is headed toward a varied weather pattern, those services become more important.”

  13. fj says:

    Convergence: A major cause of climate change, fossil fuel heavy machinery transport (cars, buses, trucks, etc.) is globally devastating & especially lethal in middle & low income countries.

    Road accidents kill 3,300 people daily w/1.3 million deaths & 50 million severe injuries per year.

  14. Lionel A says:

    Yes. And I figure that goes for many states from Texas to the Canadian border.

    Are there not groups organised as armed militias with bunkers and heavy automatic weapons and more?

    Here is a question and answer session from an unlikely source but at least Bellesiles (a name almost reminiscent of the age of wooden warships) seems an authoritative historian:

    Arming America: when did we become a gun culture?

  15. Wes Rolley says:

    We hear so much about the big programs. We hear little about the hard work of those obsessed with saving agriculture. But, there are successes, even in the Sahel: Man Who Stopped the Desert.

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    I would add one more thing, what ever does make it through these hotter conditions, has a lower nutritional value.

    “If farmers keep the types of rice currently grown in Kyushu, then the quality will continue to decrease as the temperature rises,” he told Global Post.

    Japan’s average annual temperature has been higher by between 0.2 degrees Centigrade and 1 degree for the past decade compared with the average base figure for the 30 years up to 2000, according to the meteorological agency.

    Those rises have coincided with an increase in immature rice grains, identifiable by their milky white appearance, in newly harvested crops. “Chalky grains increase due to high temperature conditions or insufficient solar radiation during the ripening period,” Okada said.

    The result is a poor-quality grain containing less starch, which fetches lower prices even though, Okada concedes, the difference in taste is imperceptible to most consumers.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    John, I often think of a propaganda canard that circulated during the 1980s. It alleged that, in Russia, there was a belief that Gorbachev’s birthmark, was ‘The Sign of the Beast’ and he was the Anti-Christ. In a funny way, I think it has panned out that way. By surrendering, to avert thermo-nuclear war, then by trusting Western guarantees, he indeed opened the way for the End Times, only through ecological devastation wrought by a global capitalist system operating without hindrance. It’s tragically ironic for Gorbachev, as he has done much good work with the Green Cross since his fall from power.

  18. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    His motto- ‘Your pain is our gain’.