Preeti Kapuria and Debosmita Sarkar in their assertion in the ORF of today, that climate vulnerabilities, food security, and resilient development have some sort of cause to affect relationships elaborated on this article that is worth meditating on. Here it is:
Climate vulnerabilities, food security, and resilient development
Both climate risks and non-climatic drivers need to be factored in to curb food and water shortages induced by climate change in vulnerable regions of the world.
The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the IPCC has estimated an average increase of the order of 1.09°C in global surface temperature over the last decade from the 1850–1900 levels. The AR6 Working Group II (WGII) makes an assessment of climate change impacts and risks as well as adaptations necessary in the context of non-climatic global concerns like biodiversity loss, natural resource extraction, ecosystem degradation, unbridled urbanisation and demographic shifts, rising inequalities, and the most recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Recognising the interactions of coupled social, climate, and ecological systems, AR6 draws from the natural, ecological, and social sciences in a way to understand the risks emerging from interactions amongst these coupled systems and offer reasonable solutions for the future—hedging against the risks emanating from such interactions. In WGII, impacts are assessed with respect to exposure, vulnerability, and adaptation including assessments of sustainable development models and the plausibility of climate-resilient development. Adopting climate-resilient development requires transitioning to states that reduce the impacts of climate risks, strengthen adaptation and mitigation actions, and, most importantly, conserve and restore these coupled systems. Accordingly, the report focuses on transformation and system transitions in energy; ecosystems conservation; urban and rural infrastructure; and industry and society.
Adopting climate-resilient development requires transitioning to states that reduce the impacts of climate risks, strengthen adaptation and mitigation actions, and, most importantly, conserve and restore these coupled systems.
A multitude of risks can arise from exposure to climate-related hazards, that have significantly varying impacts across regions, sectors, communities depending upon the vulnerability of the affected human and ecological systems. It can also arise from climate change mitigation or adaptation strategies—a new aspect considered under the risk concept of AR6. Climate change has already induced substantial and increasingly irreversible losses spanning across socio-economic-ecological systems. Frequent high-intensity climate and weather extremes have pushed millions of vulnerable people across regions below the poverty line, confronted with acute food and nutritional insecurity, water scarcity, employment vulnerability and loss of basic livelihoods. Besides, it has also led to higher incidences of food-borne, water-borne, or vector-borne diseases as well as humanitarian crises driven by widespread displacement (forced migration). Most of these impacts have been concentrated in the countries of the Global South and the Arctic region.
As per the estimates of the report around 3.3 to 3.6 billion people, globally, are highly vulnerable to the risks associated with climate change. The global hotspots of human vulnerability are particularly concentrated in the Global South, the Small Island Developing States and the Arctic—regions with extreme poverty, governance challenges, and limited access to resources, violent conflict, and higher engagement rates with climate-sensitive livelihoods.
Major challenges: Food insecurity and water scarcity
Increased exposure to climate-induced risks have undermined the possibility of achieving food and nutritional security, especially in vulnerable regions of the world. Frequent, high intensity and severe droughts, floods and heatwaves, accompanied by substantial sea-level rise continue to increase such risks, especially for regions with lower adaptive capacity. Higher global warming pathways in the medium-term pose even higher risks to food and nutritional security. Consequently, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, and the Small Islands will remain considerably vulnerable to such risks. With global warming progressively weakening soil health and altering natural processes, a substantial reduction in marine animal biomass and changes in food productivity on land and in the ocean are expected. Reduced water availability and streamflow change in many regions, predominantly in parts of North and South America, the Mediterranean region, and South Asia present some additional challenges to food security.
Frequent, high intensity and severe droughts, floods and heat waves, accompanied by substantial sea-level rise continue to increase such risks, especially for regions with lower adaptive capacity.
As per AR6, around 4 billion out of 7.8 billion people experience severe water shortages for at least one month per year due to interactions of climatic and non-climatic factors. The rising population pressure in the developing countries of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East continues to exacerbate the crisis associated with poor water quality, low availability, limited accessibility, and poor water governance. These regions are, therefore, likely to experience even higher rates of depletion of groundwater resources. In the absence of irrigation and varying rainfall patterns, yields of major crops in semi-arid regions, mainly in the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Australia, are already experiencing negative growth.
As for the urban areas, over this decade, almost three-quarters of the urban land across South and Southeast Asian countries is expected to experience high-frequency floods while some parts of Africa may experience severe droughts of similar magnitude. Without adaptation, these water-related impacts of climate change, not only present severe implications for food security but, is likely to contribute to a 0.49 percent in decline in global GDP by 2050, with significant regional variations. Estimates suggest declines to the tune of 14 percent in the Middle East, 11.7 percent in the Sahel, 10.7 percent in Central Asia, and 7 percent in East Asia. Even across countries at different income levels within a region, such water-related impacts are projected to have a differential impact on overall economic growth.
Making the choice: Adopting a climate-resilient development
It is evidently clear that the exposure and vulnerability to climate change-induced risks are strongly influenced by the development trajectories pursued by communities and nations, their patterns of consumption and production, the nature and extent of demographic pressures, and unsustainable use and management of ecosystems and related services. Going forward, meeting food security targets will have to cope with climate risks and non-climatic drivers that continue to cause forest cover degradation (including biodiversity loss), land degradation, desertification, and its submergence (mainly in coastal areas), and unsustainable agricultural expansion, land-use change, and water scarcity.
Almost three-quarters of the urban land across South and Southeast Asian countries is expected to experience high-frequency floods while some parts of Africa may experience severe droughts of similar magnitude.
Greater emphasis will have to be placed on adaptation planning and implementation at a system level that cuts across sectors. In this context, amidst growing public awareness and political cognisance, the WGII AR6 nudges policymakers and communities to adopt a climate-resilient development pathway, while cautioning against its limits and the plausible impacts of maladaptation. To cite an example from the report, in the context of water-related climate change-associated risks, a complimentary design of non-structural measures like early warning systems; structural measures like levees, enhanced natural water retention through wetlands and rivers restoration; land use planning and forest management; on-farm water storage and management; and, soil conservation and irrigation can be effective in ensuring economic, institutional, and ecological benefits of water. Promoting sustainable food systems and ensuring nutritional security will require community-based adoption of sustainable farming practices, agro-forestry, and ecological restoration and supportive public policies to make it a reality.
Interestingly, AR6 highlights effective and feasible adaptation solutions based on climate justice, entailing distributive and procedural justice complemented by recognition of diverse cultural and social perspectives. Integrated and inclusive system-oriented solutions that are based on equity and justice can reduce risks and enable climate-resilient development. Inclusive processes that strengthen the ability of the nations to contribute to effective adaptation outcomes can enable climate-resilient development.
 This article is based on a technical summary of the Working Group II’s contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, titled “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change”, released on 28th February 2022, announced until 1st October 2021.
- Debosmita Sarkar is Research Assistant with the Economy and Growth Programme at ORF Kolkata. Her research interests include macroeconomic policy, international finance and development economics.
- Preeti Kapuria is currently a Fellow at ORF Kolkata with research interests in the area of environment, development and agriculture. The approach is to understand the linkages between biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and ecosystem services and to examine how environmental governance, participatory economics and the commons, and the workings of social-ecological systems influence these linkages.