Climate change has the greatest negative impact on food production on poor communities and developing countries, research by nonprofit Christian Aid shows — despite the fact that these populations contribute far less to carbon emissions than people in developed countries.
According to the study, the top 10 most food insecure countries — Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Chad, Malawi, Haiti, Niger, and Zambia — generate less than half a tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person. In total, these countries account for about 0.08% of global CO2 emissions.
Burundians produce about 0.027 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. By comparison, someone living in Saudi Arabia produces the same amount of CO2 in one year as approximately 718 Burundians combined, while one Briton produces the same amount of annual carbon emissions as 200 Burundians. Similarly, the average American and Russian produces the same amount of carbon emission as 581 and 454 people in Burundi respectively.
Though people in developing countries typically contribute less to climate change in terms of carbon emissions, they disproportionately feel its effects, especially when it comes to food security.
Dr. Samuel Myers, principal research scientist at Harvard University's Department of Environmental Health, said the impact of climate change and related extreme weather events on food security is a “moral crisis.”
“Our research shows that rising concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are reducing the nutritional quality of the food we eat, and that the most vulnerable people to these impacts are those least responsible for rising global CO2 concentrations,” he said.
“From this, and other research, what is quite clear is that climate change is not only a global health crisis, it is a moral crisis," he added.
Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, professor of global environmental politics at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, said the report is a warning to world leaders and all people to start caring more for the environment.
"These are warning signals that all of us ignore at our peril, for agriculture ultimately is one of the most threatened of our economic sectors and most fundamental for the healthy functioning of our societies and our communities,” she said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which works with nuclear energy in food security, has called climate action “a serious threat to global food security, sustainable development, and poverty eradication”.
This threat is caused by changing and extreme weather patterns that causes droughts and floods — thereby impacting food production and security.
Dr. Gina Ziervogel, senior researcher at the Climate Systems Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town, has conducted extensive research on people and the environment in Southern Africa specifically.
Speaking at a conference held in 2005 to determine the impact of climate change on food systems in Africa, Ziervogel said climate change has a major impact on the avaibility of and access to food.
“Changing weather patterns or extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts, can have negative consequences for agricultural production. As a result people have less access to food, which forces them to buy food products. This affects their financial situation,” she added.
“It also influences their health as people often buy cheaper food which is frequently less nutritious,” she continued. “Especially for those who need a nutritious diet — the chronically ill, for instance — this poses a problem.”