S. Korean President: “There is an increasing likelihood of a food crisis globally due to climate change.”

UN’s Figueres explains: “If the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water.”

According to a statement on the China Meteorological Administration’s Web site, cabinet members were told that there was no end in sight to the drought.

As I’ve written in my series on food insecurity, the expert consensus has been growing on the contribution of record high food prices to Middle East unrest. So too has our understanding that as the Washington Post and Lester Brown explained, extreme weather and climate change have helped drive record food prices.

Into the discussion comes three important pieces. First, the NY Times’ John Broder blogs:

The United Nations’ top climate change official said on Tuesday that food shortages and rising prices caused by climate disruptions were among the chief contributors to the civil unrest coursing through North Africa and the Middle East.

In a speech to Spanish lawmakers and military leaders, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations climate office, said that climate change-driven drought, falling crop yields and competition for water were fueling conflict throughout Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. She warned that unless nations took aggressive action to reduce emissions causing global warming such conflicts would spread, toppling governments and driving up military spending around the world.

Second, Bloomberg has an equally remarkable piece, “Climate Change May Cause ‘Massive’ Food Disruptions,” which begins:

Global food supplies will face “massive disruptions” from climate change, Olam International Ltd. predicted, as Agrocorp International Pte. said corn will gain to a record, stoking food inflation and increasing hunger.

“The fact is that climate around the world is changing and that will cause massive disruptions,” Sunny Verghese, chief executive officer at Olam, among the world’s three biggest suppliers of rice and cotton, said in a Bloomberg Television interview today. “We’re friendly to wheat, corn and soybeans and bearish on rice.”

Here’s more:

Shrinking global food supplies helped push the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization’s World Food Price Index to a record for a second month in January. As food becomes less available and more expensive, “hoarding becomes widespread,” Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at FAO, said Feb. 9, predicting prices of wheat and other grains are more likely to rise than decline in the next six months.

Corn futures surged 90 percent in the past year, while wheat jumped 80 percent and soybeans advanced 49 percent as the worst drought in at least half a century in Russia, flooding in Australia, excessive rainfall in Canada, and drier conditions in parts of Europe slashed harvests.

Corn may be the best-performing agricultural commodity, surging to a record in the first half, while wheat will advance as increased government purchases help “inflame” the market, said Vijay Iyengar, managing director of Agrocorp International, who’s traded agricultural commodities since 1986.

Global warming may help lift the prices of corn, wheat and rice by at least two-thirds by 2050, a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute showed in December. “There is an increasing likelihood of a food crisis globally due to climate change,” South Korean President Lee Myung Bak told his secretaries on Feb. 7, according to a statement.

“Corn is where demand is most imbalanced” against supply, Iyengar said in an interview in Singapore yesterday. “Increased purchasing by governments “tends to inflame markets,” he said.

Food prices have become too high for some developing countries to buy the agricultural products they need, raising the risk of food riots, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said earlier this month.

“We don’t want too many storms, because that tends to contribute to excited decision-making,” Agrocorp’s Iyengar said, referring to supply problems influencing governments’ import policies and purchasing volumes. “It also puts pressure on the lower strata of people in various countries. You see the poorer people tend to hurt more.”

Governments in the region know that high food prices drive instability, so they have begun hoarding. As I reported on Feb. 4, Scientific American said of the Egyptian situation: “… there is no doubt that rising food prices added fuel to an already combustible mix,” and other MidEast countries “have been snapping up supplies of wheat in the world market to forestall any hint of food price spikes””or regime change.”

Back to Bloomberg:

Intensified Hoarding

Protests, prompted in part by rising food prices, spread across North Africa and the Middle East in the past month, driving Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile after 23 years in power and ending Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Sales and shipments of wheat by the U.S. to Egypt, the world’s biggest buyer, jumped to 2.9 million tons since June 1, more than six times higher than the same period a year earlier, according to USDA figures dated Feb. 3.

Algeria bought 2.95 million tons of wheat from Dec. 16 to Jan. 26, according to crops office FranceAgriMer. That was “probably” the most the country had ever bought in a five-week period, said Xavier Rousselin, the office’s head of arable crops. Loadings of French soft wheat destined for Morocco more than tripled to 1.16 million tons from 350,000 tons a year earlier, the company said.

Protests, prompted in part by rising food prices, spread across North Africa and the Middle East in the past month, driving Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali into exile after 23 years in power and ending Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Whether such hoarding as a big impact on food prices or small depends on whether the crops this year are good or bad. Right now the situation is worrisome (see my Feb. 9 post, “UN food agency warns severe drought threatens wheat crop in China, world’s largest producer it is”).

The third big story is that the NYT reported Monday:

China’s drought-control headquarters posted a statement on its Web site on Sunday that described conditions as “grim” across a wide area of the wheat belt in Northern China and called for emergency irrigation efforts.Agricultural experts say it is too early to assess the damage to the wheat harvest.

“We are in the winter months now, when it is typically drier anyway, so the seedlings should still be alive,” said an expert at Shandong Agricultural University who would provide only his family name, Wang. “But if the weather turns warmer and there is still no rain, then we will not be talking about lower agricultural production, but rather zero production, because the seedlings will all be dead.”

The worries go beyond China, which has essentially been self-sufficient in grain for decades. The concern is that China, with 1.3 billion mouths to feed, may need to import wheat in volume, creating shortages elsewhere….

According to a statement on the China Meteorological Administration’s Web site, cabinet members were told that there was no end in sight to the drought.

If the drought lasts a couple more weeks, it will be the worst in 200 years. As Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, put it in December, “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year.”

And that brings us back to Christiana Figueres’ must-read speech:

… if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water. In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation — the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.

Let us look at some factors:

1. Reduced water supply and growing demand will in some places lead to increasing competition among different sectors of society, different communities and different countries. Already, one-third of all people in Africa live in droughtprone regions. The IPCC estimates that by 2050, up to 600 million Africans will be at risk of water stress.

2. On a global level, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns will lead to falling agricultural production and higher food prices, leading to food insecurity…. Recent experiences around the world clearly show how such situations can cause political instability and undermine the performance of already fragile states.

3. Changes in sea-level, more frequent and more severe natural disasters and water shortages have the potential to cause large-scale, destabilizing population movements. Migration, especially within a country, is not inherently problematic and is quite common in Africa. But what we have seen historically in terms of international migration will be tiny compared to the migration brought about by the magnitude of future pressures on vulnerable populations.

All these factors taken together mean that climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergence, spread and longevity of conflict.

As you certainly know better than me, these are the reasons why militaries around the world are planning for climate change, adjusting their budgets, their strategies and their priorities….

What will be better?

o To continue to support a traditional global military budget that has risen 50 percent in real terms from 2000 to 2009 and continues to increase?

o Or to increase a preventive military budget investing into adaptation and low-carbon growth and avoid the climate chaos that would demand a defence response that makes even today’s spending burden look light?

… As mentioned before, no nation can flourish if its citizens are faced with climate change impacts and increasing prospects for conflict.

Hear! Hear!

The time to act was years ago, but acting now is infinitely better than waiting until it is too damn late.

We were warned: