Beyond COP26: New climate goals a big boost for inclusive food systems

By Elizabeth Gathogo

Global warming is destabilizing the planet. It has led to extreme and erratic weather patterns, negatively impacting livelihoods and trade, says Horticulture Fellow.

The United Nations defines Climate Change as the long term shift in temperatures and weather patterns attributed to human led activities including burning of fossil fuels which produce large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide gases. These gases trap the heat emanating from the sun making the earth’s atmosphere warmer, commonly known as global warming. Other sources of heat trapping gases include methane produced during cattle production and rice growing, and nitrous oxide due to use of nitrogen- based fertilizers. Deforestation has also been flagged as a contributor to climate change as the practice reduces the capacity of trees to absorb carbon dioxide leading to its increase in the atmosphere.

Mr Urbanus Kamuti and Leah Mwaura at a vertical garden demonstrating regenerative technologies for growing traditional vegetables in Mwala, Machakos County. Leah, a Horticulture Fellow with the African Food Fellowship, promotes use of vertical gardens to grow multiple crops in limited space.

How much hotter has the planet really gotten?

There has been a 1.18 degree Celsius increase in global temperature for the period between 1880 and 2020. This change seems small but it takes a lot of heat to warm the entire earth and its elements- including the ocean, land and atmosphere by that much. For context, the earth only had to cool by one to two degrees to trigger the Little Ice Age which lasted from the 14th Century to the 19th century.

How does global warming affect food systems?

Global warming is destabilizing the planet. It has led to extreme and fluctuating weather patterns resulting in flooding, long dry spells, drought, heat waves and rise in sea water levels. These conditions threaten our food systems and negatively impact food security, human health, livelihoods and trade. For instance, flooding results in decreased production, post-harvest losses, food contamination, soil erosion and leaching, which in turn lead to loss of farm income, increase dependency on food aid and fluctuating food prices. Other snowball effects include changes in suitability zones for food production, high cost of food storage including refrigeration, high energy costs, loss of biodiversity and reduced labour productivity.

What does COP26 have to do with climate change?

The world has recognized there is need to address the various challenges resulting from climate change and through the UN, countries all over the world have been holding annual climate summits called Conference of the Parties (COP). This year the UN organized the 26 th Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, UK, where world leaders, civil society and business leaders gathered to discuss and set ambitious goals to tackle climate change challenges. The participants zeroed in on four major targets:

  • Ensuring a carbon neutral environment by 2050 and limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This would be achieved by gradually getting rid of coal, adoption of renewable energy, use of electric vehicles and cutting down on deforestation.
  • Enhancing climate resilience of communities and securing, protecting and restoring ecosystems.
  • Mobilization of at least USD100 billion per year to implement the climate targets.
  • Enhancing collaboration and partnership to achieve the climate goals.

What happens to the African food system if the COP 26 deliberations are not actualized?

This would have a big impact on not only food system activities but also socioeconomics and environmental drivers. It would mean the continent will not be able to adequately meet and sustain the food needs of the over 1.37 billion Africans. The food security situation would worsen especially with the rising population which is projected to be 1.68 billion by 2030. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperature and rainfall extremes have been increasing over time and if right actions are not taken, it will leave the content more vulnerable, considering most of the production is rain fed. In fact, International Fund for Agriculture Development projects by 2050, there would be an 80% yield decrease in staple foods which are produced by some African Countries.

In what ways is climate change already affecting us?

There are many devastating climate change related experiences which have continuously been reported in Africa. For instance in Kenya, in the year 2018, 230,000 people were displayed by floods, 8,500 hectares of crops destroyed and over 200,000 livestock drowned. The roads and infrastructure were also destroyed impacting on trade and livelihoods. In 2019, two cyclones hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe affecting over 2.5 million people and damaging 715,378 hectares under crops. If not arrested on time, climate change related extremities will also continue to harm our natural resources which are key drivers of the food system and affect over 60% of Africans who rely on agriculture as a source of livelihood.

What is the way forward?

The Glasgow COP26 discussions have advocated for immediate actions that will determine if the food system in Africa will be rewarding, resilient, sustainable, efficient and inclusive. A multi-stakeholder approach should be adopted to address the climate and food system goals. Partnerships and collaborations will also be key as the different players work together for better outcomes. Adoption of climate smart agricultural technologies and nature based solutions are vital as they aim to increase productivity and incomes, enhance livelihoods, restore ecosystems and enhance their resilience while also contributing to reduced greenhouse gases emissions. The food and climate goals cannot be achieved without research, innovation, technology adoption and information dissemination. Lastly, adequate funding and incentives from both public and private sector are required to enhance capacities and to implement the COP26 commitments. We need concerted efforts are to make life better for people and planet.