2.1 Volatile food prices and provision: risks of chokepoints and breadbasket failures

The UN’s first ever global assessment on food security and nutrition found that world hunger was on the rise, driven by climate change and conflict.‍[44] After steadily declining for over a decade, hunger levels are up, affecting 11 percent of the global population, that is, 815 million people, up from 777 million in 2015. Some of the highest proportions of food-insecure and malnourished children in the world are now concentrated in conflict zones. Many of these regions are also adversely affected by climate change. For example, famine struck in parts of South Sudan for several months in early 2017, and there are strong indications that that it could reoccur there as well as appear in other conflict-affected places, namely northeast Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. But even in regions that are more peaceful, droughts or floods linked in part to the El Niño weather phenomenon, as well as the global economic slowdown, have also seen food security and nutrition deteriorate. Furthermore, the interaction of prolonged drought, ongoing conflict and governance issues has led to a critical situation by which food security issues are not only leading to severe malnutrition and famine, but are contributing to migration and communal and border conflicts over natural resource access.‍[45] In fact, across the world, and especially in Africa, drylands are under extreme pressure due to a combination of factors that are disrupting livelihoods, intensifying conflicts and decreasing resilience.‍[46]

The scientific evidence reliably shows that increasing temperature, the stronger El Nino effect in 2015 and 2016 and reduction in groundwater resources are major drivers of food insecurity. There is clear evidence that climate change is reducing crop quality and yield‍[47], which “ultimately depend on a dynamic balance of appropriate biophysical resources, including soil quality, water availability, sunlight, CO2, temperature suitability, and, in some cases, pollinator abundance”.‍[48] Krimley et al (2017), modelled on current climate scenarios, observe the shortening of the growing and cultivation periods of winter wheat and spring barley. They found the harvest of winter wheat could move up to 21 days earlier, affecting potential yield. According to Zhao et al (2017), without effective mitigation measures, “each degree-Celsius increase in global mean temperature would, on average, reduce global yields of wheat by 6.0%, rice by 3.2%, maize by 7.4%, and soybean by 3.1%”.‍[49] In real time, food prices are being affected – a drought in Kenya led to severe price increases, with the main staple food, maize flour, rising by 31%.‍[50] The drought became a major issue in the Kenyan presidential elections of August 2017 – an example of how food security issues at the local level, can scale up to a national discussion.‍[51]

Looking at the US and China (which account for 60% of maize production), the probability of multiple breadbasket failures where climate impacts affect production in both regions simultaneously, is increasing by 6% per decade, predominantly due to water stress.‍[52] Researchers warn that “adaptation plans and policies based solely on observed events from the recent past may considerably under-estimate the true risk of climate-related maize shocks in these regions”, and call for a similar analysis of all key crops. Evidence from elsewhere, including Malaysia‍[53], Portugal‍[54], India‍[55] and the Euro-Mediterranean region,‍[56] indicates similar risks. Looking to Asia, the Asian Development Bank warns of rapidly emerging risks in South Asia, including around food agricultural yields. Per capita calorie availability is on the decline across all South Asian countries and the costs of food imports are likely to increase substantially – making food insecurity a major risk.‍[57] This is likely to have compound effects in Asian cities, where half of Asia’s populations are likely to reside by 2050, according to rural-urban migration trends.‍[58] In the current era, in many of Asia’s cities, municipal and regional governments are not prepared, or even considering how to ensure food supply chain security in the face of a changing climate.

These sectoral risks are important in the bigger picture of climate-fragility risks. Studies show that food insecurity, particularly relating to food provision and price volatility can be strong drivers of discontent.‍[59] The FAO referred to the risks of such discontent from a gendered perspective with its report on ‘Food security, sustaining peace and gender equality’, released in September 2017.‍[60] They noted that reducing food insecurity, especially in states affected by conflict or the legacy of conflict, would have some impact towards reducing incentives for males to join armed groups. Furthermore, despite a lagging evidence base, the FAO suggests that there could be an important relationship between ensuring food security and gender equality.‍[61]

The impact of compound climate risks on food security is duly, albeit slowly, becoming a major global concern, although adequate policy and practical responses are still thin on the ground. This year there has been acknowledgement of the relationship between food security issues and security issues such as protests and recruitment to insurgent groups, and there a more conflict preventative, risk based approach is emerging.‍[62]

In 2017, Chatham House identified 14 trade ‘chokepoints’ - critical junctures on transport routes through which exceptional volumes of trade pass – that are critical to food security.‍[63] The authors emphasise that climate and weather hazards are increasingly disruptive to these critical chokepoints, making the trade of key food commodities vulnerable. “Climate change is increasing the threat of disruption by acting as a hazard multiplier across all three categories of chokepoint risk. It will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather, leading to more regular closures of chokepoints and greater wear and tear on infrastructure. Rising sea levels will threaten the integrity of port operations and coastal storage infrastructure, and will increase their vulnerability”.‍[64]

In terms of adequate responses, the first step is sufficient action on global climate change, particularly adaptation. In the absence of this, the FAO point to a worsening food security outlook for 2018, especially in Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan (who are at risk of famine), but also with intensifying food insecurity related to El Nino effects in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Somalia. In the immediate short-term, responses need to take account of the highly contextual and globally interconnected nature of climate-related risks agriculture and food security. This calls for more locally grounded research that can provide specific, contextual information to inform adaptation policies, strategies, and measures. This must go beyond just technical fixes such as the development of new crop varieties, and must aim to address the different risk factors which interact to undermine people’s resilience in specific contexts.‍[65]

2.2 New insights on livelihood security and migration

2016 saw a plethora of resources that have strengthened global understanding about the relationships between livelihood security and migration. Human mobility in response to changing environments has been a feature throughout history; seasonal migration is a key livelihood strategy across South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other regions. However, what is becoming more prevalent is an increase in duration of circular migration patterns and in the need to migrate permanently and to new places, due in part to the impacts of a warming climate.

The World Food Programme (WFP) released a report which discussed the marked rise in international migration in recent years, pointing out that nine out of ten international refugees move to a low or middle income country.‍[66] Working with migrants from 10 countries, now settled across the Middle East and southern Europe, the WFP determined, that “countries with the highest level of food insecurity, coupled with armed conflict, have the highest outward migration of refugees”.‍[67] While not using the language of climate change, the report does emphasise environmental degradation as a structural factor for livelihood insecurity and migration.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace emphasised that the climate change and migration linkage is an underestimated global disaster, with an average of 25.4 million people displaced every year as a consequence of rapid and slow-onset natural disasters.‍[68] However, due to the complex climate and migration nexus – mediated in different ways by governance, political and societal issues – there has been insufficient research and policy response to date. The Greenpeace report emphasises that migration, and the accompanying employment opportunities, can in fact present opportunities for host societies and countries, but there must be much more focussed attention to promote more coordinated and pragmatic migration that does not drive people towards higher-risk areas such as coastal megacities and river deltas and where livelihoods are already at risk, as are the current trends.

The Wilson Center also drew attention to the linkages between water security, food security and migration in Central America‍[69], where Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been particularly affected. Honduras, for example is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change‍[70] and is also home to around 174,000 Internally Displaced Persons.‍[71] The 2017 study of Epicentres from the Center for Climate and Security outlined the negative implications of these climate impacts on the coffee crop – the most profitable export crop in the region and one of the main sources of employment and income – contributing to the livelihoods of 25 million farmers.‍[72] The study illustrates how climate change’s impact on coffee production could drive broader social and security risks, and disrupt the intricate and fragile relationship between coffee farming and economic, social, political and regional security. These impacts are already unfolding. And in a region which has faced political instability, violence and fragile governance for decades, the added pressure of climate change impacts are exacerbating the push factors for people to move, predominantly from rural areas to already stressed urban areas. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) calls for more work to increase resilience to the impacts of climate change in order to prevent what they emphasise is ‘forced migration’ in the Central American region.‍[73]

Considering eighty percent of African citizens depend on agriculture for their livelihoods; the impacts of climate change on livelihoods have been severe. Drylands are especially affected by climate change, for example the Lake Chad Basin Region, crossing Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and Chad and the Omo-Turkana basin region, crossing northern Kenya, Southern Ethiopia and South Sudan. In South Sudan, a 2-3 Celsius temperature increase has exacerbated drought, and food and livelihood insecurity.‍[74] The combination of drought and development projects are driving an impending catastrophe for five million people as they eliminate ‘last resort’ grazing lands for livestock, flood recession agriculture and fishing habitats.‍[75] As a result there is a rapid increase in human mobility and displacement on both sides of the border, heightening grievances against the state, famine and communal conflicts.‍[76] These conflicts have manifested in gendered ways, where women and men have become primary targets of different forms of violence.‍[77]

In late 2016 the Wilson Center released a report on policy lessons that can be learned by cases such as Darfur and Syria where there has been a complex interlinkage between climate change, migration and security.‍[78] Crucially, they noted, that considering that the majority of internal displacement occurs within borders or to neighbouring countries – there is a need for renewed efforts to strengthen local and regional institutions. This includes customary institutions which may not be ‘formally’ recognised by states but are key to the way people in societies interact with each other. Furthermore they observed that focusing on people’s access to livelihoods, rights to basic resources and environmental peacebuilding could be key tools.

All reports noted a lack of sufficient data on migration, but the existing data yields fairly consistent findings: that combined with governance gaps, and/or conflict, climate change is exacerbating livelihood vulnerabilities which leave citizens with the only rational decision: to migrate.

2.3 Extreme weather events and disasters – risks to urban stability

The global community is poorly prepared for a rapid increase in climate change-related natural disasters which are affecting cities. A 2016 report by GFDRR estimates that assets worth $158tn – double the total annual output of the global economy – would be in jeopardy by 2050 without preventative action.‍[79] Though cities offer many advantages for many individuals, urbanisation often exacerbates and highlights inequalities through the proximity of rich and poor. This, in turn, is all too often a factor leading to instability and conflict. Climate impacts can make these inequalities even more apparent, fuelling grievances further.

Yet while research on climate change and urban violence are independently strong, few efforts have been made to understand the linkages between them, and less still has been made to address these linkages through any practical measures. To date, there is little thinking or analysis around whether, where and how climate change adaptation and urban violence intersect and interact. Why are the potential connections between climate change adaptation and urban violence important to understand? First, to ensure that adaptation efforts do not inadvertently increase the risk of urban violence. And second, where possible, so that these efforts can be designed to reduce the risk.

There is growing awareness of the need for humanitarian programming in urban settings which specifically takes account of urban risks and dynamics. For example, this year saw the first ever update of the 20 year old humanitarian guidelines, ‘The Sphere Handbook’, to take account of the specific requirements of urban crises.‍[80] However, there is still a lack of climate and conflict foresight being utilised in urban planning and infrastructure planning, especially in rapidly urbanising areas. For example, the New Urban Agenda provides no substantive guide on how to address urban violence and conflict.

Across the global South in particular, rapid urbanisation, both planned and unplanned, is largely failing to account for the risks and impacts of a warming climate‍[81] and conflict risks.‍[82] According to Greenpeace, in 2015, eight of the ten countries with the highest number of persons displaced by natural disasters were in Asia, with the highest absolute numbers in India, China, and the Philippines. A large proportion of these migrants are displaced to cities, rather than camps, although exact figures are hard to establish. Through displacement, as well regular migration and as population growth, Africa and Asia are set to be home to 80% of the world’s urban growth in the next 30 years.‍[83] Cities are growing at such a rate that municipal governments are unable to keep up in terms of provision of basic rights and services like water, energy and housing. Consequently, the risks of climate change are not in the forefront of policymakers’ minds, especially when they are working with, both, restricted budgets and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which were created by federal government agencies with insufficient understanding of municipal needs and challenges.

Although the current global frameworks offer some real opportunities to promote resilience, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Action, New Urban Agenda and the UN Peacebuilding Commission’s Sustaining Peace Agenda all have gaps when it comes to addressing this nexus of climate change, cities and fragility. The gaps in the global frameworks illustrate that global and national efforts to address climate and disaster risks must be transposed to the urban scale. There was consensus at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit on the need for greater localisation. This will require a transformation of the way in which the UN system and many donor agencies operate – for example recognising the role of urban authorities (which remain absent in many agreements) and building local urban capacity. It will also need greater contextual knowledge of city actors – mayors, urban dwellers, municipalities and urban conflict dynamics – as well as engaging them in the implementation of global processes.

There have been some promising signals of a shift in global governance and examples of urban leadership on climate adaptation. The Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, has been supporting municipal and non-governmental actors in mapping and monitoring climate change risks, to develop municipal resilience strategies and to better communicate to support the NDCs.‍[84] Also supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the 100 Resilient Cities initiative continues to support cities develop a Resilience Strategy and establish a Chief Resilience Officer in 100 cities to help build resilience to physical, social and economic challenges. However, these initiatives, and other similar municipal resilience building efforts‍[85] still lack explicit recognition of conflict and climate-fragility risks. And ultimately, these initiatives are small, compared to the larger scale trends of urban expansion which advances without due consideration of climate change, and the continuing dearth of attention to and financing for disaster preparedness and prevention at the municipal level. More needs to be done to support local and municipal governments to imagine and then plan for more climate and conflict resilient urban spaces.

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