How does climate change affect farming and food security?

Women carry belongings salvaged from their flooded home after monsoon rains in the Qambar Shahdadkot, Pakistan, on September 6, 2022. (AP/File)
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Updated 01 December 2023

How does climate change affect farming and food security?

  • As fossil fuel emissions heat the planet, they are driving extreme weather from heavy rains and droughts to heatwaves
  • Such events can affect crops, ruin farmland and make it harder for farmers to work, threatening everyone’s access to food

LONDON: As impacts from prolonged droughts to extreme heat worsen, climate change is threatening the world’s ability to produce enough nutritious food and ensure everyone has access to it. 

At COP28 in Dubai, more than 130 country leaders on Friday called for global and national food systems to be rethought to address climate change — the first such official recognition at a UN climate summit of growing worries about food security and planet-heating emissions from agriculture. 

Here’s how global food systems and climate change affect each other, and what might be done about rising risks: 

How is climate change threatening food security? 

As fossil fuel emissions heat the planet, they are driving more extreme weather — from heavy rains and droughts to heatwaves — as well as gradual sea level rise. All can affect crops, ruin farmland and make it harder for farmers to work. 

A warming climate also is bringing crop diseases and pests into new locations or making infestations more severe, ruining more harvests and reducing yields. 

Such problems, combined with other pressures on food systems — from growing conflict to crop export restrictions by food-producing countries and speculation in markets — mean food is becoming less affordable and more people are going hungry. 

The UN World Food Programme estimates that 333 million people face “acute” food insecurity in 2023 in the 78 countries where it works — a huge boost from about 200 million prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Alex Flores walks on a dry area of Lake Titicaca, Latin America's largest freshwater basin, as it is edging towards record low levels, on Cojata Island, Bolivia on October 26, 2023. (REUTERS/File)

Crop failures are not a new phenomenon, with surpluses in some regions long making up for shortfalls in others, but scientists fear stronger climate impacts could drive simultaneous failures across major global “breadbaskets,” resulting in a swift rise in global hunger. 

What is being done to address these threats? 

Around the world, many farmers are adapting to climate extremes in a variety of ways, from digging irrigation ponds to trap floodwater and store it for dry times, to adopting new climate-smart seeds and bringing back hardy traditional crops. 

But some challenges — such as more frequent and extreme heatwaves that can make it difficult for farmers to work outside — are harder to counter. 

Money to help small-scale farmers — who supply about a third of the world’s food — adapt to climate risks is also falling dramatically short. 

In 2021, they received only about $2 billion, or 0.3 percent of total international climate finance from public and private sources, according to Amsterdam-based think-tank Climate Focus. 

With little outside help available, many such farmers — who have contributed little to the emissions heating up the planet — are paying the costs of climate adaptation themselves. 

The Climate Focus survey of 13 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America found nearly 440 million small-scale farmer households now spend about $368 billion annually on adaptation costs, or about $838 each per year. 

Analysts say efforts to shore up global food security also need to reach well beyond farms, to try to rein in speculators in food markets, discourage export clampdowns and revamp increasingly overwhelmed humanitarian aid systems. 

Can we find ways to grow more food to make up for the losses? 

Expanding the amount of land being farmed — or boosting the use of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and developing new crop varieties — have long been accepted ways to grow more food. 

But agricultural land expansion often comes at the expense of forests and other natural ecosystems that are critical to conserve because their vegetation absorbs and stores climate-heating carbon dioxide emissions in order to grow, helping to curb climate change. 

For example nearly 20 percent of the vast Amazon rainforest has now been lost, largely to soybean farming and cattle ranching. 

Scientists fear additional deforestation could over time turn the forest into a dry savanna, imperiling rainfall for agriculture across South America — and sabotaging the world’s climate and biodiversity protection goals. 

Efforts to intensify the amount of food grown on a set land area have shown some success but often require large amounts of expensive fossil fuel-based fertilizers. 

In recent years, however, more environmentally friendly farming methods are gaining new adherents, from the United States to India. 

But food analysts say the best way to increase global supplies is not to grow more but to reduce the huge amount of food wasted each year. 

While the world produces enough food for everyone, about a third of it is lost or wasted along the supply chain from field to fork, according to the United Nations, which says the average person wastes 74 kg (163 lb) of food each year. 

South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms

Updated 29 February 2024

South Korea seeks talks with striking medics as return to work deadline looms

  • Nearly 10,000 junior doctors – about 80 percent of the trainee workforce – handed in their notice and walked off the job last week

SEOUL: South Korea said Thursday it was seeking its first talks with striking junior doctors, warning them to return to hospitals ahead of a looming deadline or risk legal action over work stoppages that have plunged hospitals into chaos.
Nearly 10,000 junior doctors — about 80 percent of the trainee workforce — handed in their notice and walked off the job last week to protest government plans to sharply increase medical school admissions to cope with shortages and an aging society.
Doctors say the plan would hurt the quality of service, and the Korean Medical Association (KMA) has slammed the government’s “intimidation tactics.”
Under South Korean law, doctors are prohibited from striking, and the government has threatened to arrest and suspend the medical licenses of medics who do not return to work by Thursday.
Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said he had contacted doctors involved in the strike seeking talks and hoped to meet them later Thursday, adding he was unsure “how many people will attend.”
Doctors had begun trickling back to work in hospitals, Park said. “We have confirmed a downgrade in the walkouts for two days in a row,” he told a press briefing.
But Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong told local media on Thursday that “a full-scale return has not yet materialized.”
“As today is the last day (to) return, I implore them to do so for the patients,” he said, adding medics who returned to work before the deadline expired would not be punished.
Cho said the government was committed to its reform plan, which would increase medical school admissions by 65 percent, citing shortages of health professionals and a looming demographic crisis.
The KMA has not commented on possible talks, but a social media account run by young doctors shared a screenshot of a text message from the government and said: “You must be joking.”
Analysts say the government’s hard-line stance may play well for them ahead of legislative elections set for April 10.
“If the government were to back down now, they would perceive it as a major setback ahead of the upcoming general elections,” Kim Jae-heon, the secretary general of an NGO advocating free medical care, said.
But doctors “believe that stepping back at this point would result in their own disadvantage. It seems the current standoff will continue for a while.”
Proponents of the reform say doctors are mainly concerned the changes could erode their salaries and social status. The government says South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-patient ratios among developed countries.
Polling shows up to 75 percent of the public support the reforms, and President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has taken a hard line on the striking doctors, has seen his approval ratings tick up.
Kim Sung-ju, head of the Korean Cancer Patients Rights Council, said that patients’ lives were being held “hostage.”
“If the entire system comes to a halt simply because (junior doctors) have left, it truly highlights the shortage of doctors,” he said.
“It is astonishing that they are... using patients’ lives as leverage to further their own interests.”
The mass work stoppage has resulted in cancelations and postponements of surgeries for cancer patients and C-sections for pregnant women, with the government raising its public health alert to the highest level.
Kim Tae-hyeon, the head of the Korean ALS Association, said the striking doctors were “worse than organized criminals.”
“In hospice wards and intensive care units, (patients) are struggling to stay alive,” he added.

The imam and rabbi confounding stereotypes in Austria

Updated 29 February 2024

The imam and rabbi confounding stereotypes in Austria

  • Unlikely Muslim-Jewish pair are in high demand as speakers among students seeking to understand the two great religions

VIENNA: More than 150 students crowded into a room at an Austrian high school to hear an unlikely duo speak — imam Ramazan Demir and rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister.

The two men’s talks, educating students about their religions, have taken on additional pertinence since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent relentless bombing of Gaza.
Since then Austria has seen a rise in both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts, as elsewhere in Europe.
“We must separate religion from politics,” rabbi Hofmeister, 48, told the students, while imam Demir, 38, nodded in support.
“This is not a religious war, it is a political conflict, a terrible conflict that must not impact our communities here in Europe,” Hofmeister added.
The two volunteers are in high demand because “just our friendship alone defies stereotypes,” according to Demir.
Their diaries are packed until June, with the pair visiting some 30 Austrian schools.
During last week’s two-hour discussion at a high school in a working-class suburb of the capital, questions came thick and fast from the students aged 16 to 18.
A livestream allowed those unable to get a seat in the large hall to hear them explain how Jews and Muslims pray to the differences between kosher and halal.

The two bearded men — one wearing a kufi cap, the other a wide-brimmed fedora hat — met 10 years ago during an inter-religious project and have since worked together, traveling to Turkiye, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The Gaza war has not affected their friendship, they say.
“We want there to be peace, without any ifs and whens,” Demir said, while Hofmeister added that he was “glad they started to cooperate so early on to be able to address the current crisis.”
The war started when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
But concern has mounted amid the high civilian death toll from Israel’s retaliatory campaign, now at almost 30,000, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
The Vienna school where the pair were speaking has 1,200 students of 63 different nationalities, although none identify as Jewish.
At each break, numerous students crowd around the duo, who use humor to lighten the atmosphere.
“It’s interesting to see how similar religions are,” 17-year-old Estella Dolas told AFP.
Austria is a majority Catholic country, with Muslims making up around 8 percent of the population. Only 0.1 percent — just 5,400 people — declared themselves as Jewish in the 2021 census.
School director Inge Joebstl, 55, said the rapport and respect between the two men, who spoke “on an equal footing,” made the students more receptive.
Especially since many of them will otherwise look for answers on social networks where “self-proclaimed experts converted two years ago explain to them what Islam is,” warned Demir.
“After we leave, the students may not remember everything we told them,” admitted Hofmeister.
“But they will remember that an imam and a rabbi came to their school and that they got along well.”

New Zealand designates entirety of Hamas a ‘terrorist entity’

Updated 29 February 2024

New Zealand designates entirety of Hamas a ‘terrorist entity’

WELLINGTON: New Zealand on Thursday became one of the last Western countries to designate all of Hamas as a “terrorist entity,” saying the attacks of October 7 had shattered the notion its political and military wings could be separated.
“The organization as a whole bears responsibility for these horrific terrorist attacks,” the government said, announcing a move that spells a freeze on Hamas assets in New Zealand and a ban on providing it with “material support.”

Marcos says Philippines on ‘frontline’ of maritime disputes, will not cede ‘one square inch’

Updated 29 February 2024

Marcos says Philippines on ‘frontline’ of maritime disputes, will not cede ‘one square inch’

  • “The challenges that we face may be formidable, but equally formidable is our resolve. We will not yield,” Marcos tells Australia's Parliament
  • China has rapidly grown its naval forces in recent years, and snatched vast tracts of maritime territory

CANBERRA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos told Australia’s parliament his country was on the “frontline” of a battle for regional peace Thursday — pledging resolve as he sought support in maritime disputes with China.
With Beijing’s warships detected in waters off his country’s coast, Marcos told Australian lawmakers that “the Philippines now finds itself on the frontline against actions that undermine regional peace, erode regional stability, and threaten regional success.”
He vowed to remain firm in defending his country’s sovereignty.
“I will not allow any attempt by any foreign power to take even one square inch of our sovereign territory,” Marcos said to loud applause.
“The challenges that we face may be formidable, but equally formidable is our resolve. We will not yield.”
Philippines authorities this week said they detected Chinese navy vessels around the Scarborough Shoal — an area seized by Beijing in 2012.
China has claimed the shoal and swathes of the South China Sea as its own, ignoring regional objections and an international tribunal ruling that the claims have no legal basis.
It has long deployed coast guard and other vessels around the Scarborough Shoal to prevent Philippine access.
But Marcos has called the deployment of warships a new and “worrisome” development.
The South China Sea is strategically vital for several countries, providing a key route for the import and export of essential fuel, food and other goods.
The Philippines and other countries — backed by the United States — have argued the waterway should be free and open.
China has rapidly grown its naval forces in recent years, and snatched vast tracts of maritime territory, hoping to project its military and political power well beyond the country’s shores.
“The protection of the South China Sea as a critical global artery is crucial to the preservation of regional peace. And I dare say of global peace” Marcos said.

Trump is disqualified from Illinois ballot, judge rules

Updated 29 February 2024

Trump is disqualified from Illinois ballot, judge rules

  • Judge said the former president should be disqualified from the ballot for violating the anti-insurrection clause of the US constitution
  • Colorado and Maine earlier removed Trump from their state ballots, but both decisions are on hold while Trump appeals

An Illinois state judge on Wednesday barred Donald Trump from appearing on the Illinois’ Republican presidential primary ballot because of his role in the insurrection at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but she delayed her ruling from taking effect in light of an expected appeal by the former US president.

Cook County Circuit Judge Tracie Porter sided with Illinois voters who argued that the former president should be disqualified from the state’s March 19 primary ballot and its Nov. 5 general election ballot for violating the anti-insurrection clause of the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
The final outcome of the Illinois case and similar challenges will likely be decided by the US Supreme Court, which heard arguments related to Trump’s ballot eligibility on Feb. 8.
Porter said she was staying her decision because she expected his appeal to Illinois’ appellate courts, and a potential ruling from the US Supreme Court.
The advocacy group Free Speech For People, which spearheaded the Illinois disqualification effort, praised the ruling as a “historic victory” in a statement.
A campaign spokesperson for Trump, the national frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, said in a statement this “is an unconstitutional ruling that we will quickly appeal.”
Colorado and Maine earlier removed Trump from their state ballots after determining he is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Both decisions are on hold while Trump appeals.
Section 3 bars from public office anyone who took an oath to support the US Constitution and then has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, attacked police and swarmed the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Trump gave an incendiary speech to supporters beforehand, telling them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” He then for hours did not act on requests that he urge the mob to stop.
The Supreme Court is currently weighing Trump’s challenge to his Colorado disqualification. The justices in Washington appeared skeptical of the decision during oral arguments in the case, expressing concerns about states taking sweeping actions that could affect the national election.