During the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) on November 9, an international panel of experts gathered at the World Health Organization Pavilion in Glasgow to discuss the nexus between climate change and health, particularly in relation to food security.
“Climate change affects every part of the world, and those that are poor and most vulnerable are always most affected,” says Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Environment. “Our health, in general, depends on the health of the environment where we live and the health of ecosystems.”
Climate change impacts human health in multiple and complex ways that vary across time and space, both within and across countries, says Dr. Shouro Dasgupta, Researcher at Fondazione CMCC and Ca’Foscari University in Venice.
“Really to look at this nexus of climate change and health, we have to first look at the synergies between the various aspects that governments, research organizations, and others are dealing with—climate change, biodiversity, health, gender equality, ecosystem restorations, etc.,” says Ould-Dada. “And second, look at the trade-offs, because you can’t just focus on fixing one problem and then create a problem somewhere else.”
Climate change is having an increasingly negative impact on global food security, specifically, and panelists emphasized that effective food security policy must consider local contexts.
“Food insecurity is always linked to other issues, not just agriculture and weather shocks,” says Professor Elizabeth JZ Robinson, Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics.
The impacts of climate change also fall disproportionately on women. Women and children are affected by negative socioeconomic outcomes more than men, and policymakers must address this, according to Food Tank President Danielle Nierenberg.
“Climate change and poverty are inherently sexist,” says Nierenberg. “Women and girl children, especially, eat least and last, and climate change and poverty affect them more.”
There are many solutions to positively impact both this disparity and the climate crisis, according to Nierenberg, such as diversification: “We need to talk less about food insecurity and more about nutrition insecurity, because we’re not investing in a diverse set of crops.”
Ancient soils throughout Africa are depleted, and policies focusing on fertilizers are contributing to further depletion as opposed to helping build soil organic matter. Policies should instead focus on culturally appropriate technologies and practices that lift up Indigenous and traditional knowledge, says Nierenberg. Solutions must be community-led, coming directly from farmers and women themselves.
“These Indigenous foods are often looked down upon or are called poor people’s foods, but they’re the foods of the future in so many ways,” says Nierenberg. “They’re resilient to the impacts of climate change, whether it’s flooding, pests, or disease.”
Professor Ros Cornforth, Director of the Walker Institute at the University of Reading, agrees that linking the global understanding of issues like climate change, nutrition, food security, and gender equality to local action is critical.
“One of the most powerful ways to bring people into the equation is to value local expertise,” says Cornforth. “People need to be at the center of this.”
Photo courtesy of Shouro Dasgupta