Food Security and Climate Diplomacy
Photo credits: Eli Duke/

Global food security is a core concern among the different impacts of climate change. The expected increases in temperature and changes in the hydrological cycle – changing rainfall patterns and regional water availability, greater variability, and more frequent as well as more intense floods and droughts – are likely to have significant impacts on agricultural output. Furthermore, such changes also risk undermining food security through their impacts on livelihoods, infrastructure and political stability. Coupled with the expectation of greatly increasing global food demand due to demographic growth and the changing diets that come with an expanding global middle class, this raises the spectre of increasing food insecurity.

The elementary importance of food security for human welfare, coupled with the inherent connections between climate change and food availability and prices, make global food governance an important topic for climate diplomacy. Some of the crucial linkages include:

  • Most scenarios assume that global food supply will be sufficient for the decades to come, even under worrying emission scenarios. Yet sufficient global supply is only one of several preconditions for ensuring food security at the individual (and even national) level.One basic corollary of this insight is the importance of access at the individual level, and trade as well as functioning international markets at the national level. Put differently, adapting to climate change will be much more difficult if states seek to ensure food security through autarchy.
  • Subsistence farming is still the main source of livelihood for hundreds of millions of people. These are among the most vulnerable to climate change, especially where farming depends on precipitation. One crucial human security challenge thus consists of ensuring that climate change adaptation efforts and climate finance actually reach these people, who are often marginalised.
  • Food insecurity is often invoked as a driver of unrest and conflict. Climate change risks are playing a role in this respect, be it by fuelling competition over resources, especially in marginalised regions, or through the indirect impacts that price volatility can have. Although the precise causal mechanisms vary and are contested, they constitute plausible risks for peace and stability.

Given these links, food security is becoming an increasingly prominent feature of climate diplomacy. The Center for Naval Analysis developed and carried out the project Food Chain Reaction, a simulation and role-playing exercise intended to improve understanding of how governments, institutions and private-sector interests might interact to address a crisis in the global food system. Based on these insights, and with Foreign Office support and participation, adelphi and the Center for American Progress organised several events around disseminating and discussing the resulting challenges for global governance on both sides of the Atlantic. The German Permanent Representation to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome also organised Climate and Food Talks on these challenges. adelphi and the Center for American Progress published an issue brief entitled Supporting Global Food Security in a Changing Climate through Transatlantic Cooperation (2016).