Climate Change and Food Security
December 4, 2019
Bob Schieffer: I'm Bob Schieffer.
Andrew Schwartz: And I'm Andrew Schwartz of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and this is The Truth of the Matter.
Bob Schieffer: This is the podcast where we break down the policy issues of the day. Since the politicians are having their say, we will excuse them with respect and bring in the experts, many of them from CSIS, people who have been working these issues for years.
Andrew Schwartz: No spin, no bombast, no finger pointing, just informed discussion.
Bob Schieffer: To get to The Truth of the Matter on the impact of climate change on food security and global hunger, we're going to talk with Kimberly Flowers. Ms. Flowers is the Director of the Humanitarian Agenda and Global Food Security Project at CSIS. In this role, she analyzes the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance programs and policies that impact global hunger, poverty, and malnutrition. Previously, she was the Communications Director for Fintrac, an international development company focusing on hunger eradication and poverty alleviation through agricultural solutions.
Bob Schieffer: Thank you, Ms. Flowers, for being with us today. There's no question that climate change is making a dramatic impact. And we can't say we were not warned. Writing in the Washington Post today, Eugene Robinson, the columnist wrote, "We are losing the battle to save our planet and we have no one to blame but ourselves." That is, I think, one of the bluntest warnings that we've gotten. But it certainly sums up the situation. You have just done this project for CSIS linking food, world hunger, to the climate situation. That's one part of it that we probably ought to talk a lot more about. I'm sure you agree. But we haven't talked all that much about it. So tell us about what was this project, and what did you find out?
Kimberly Flowers: Sure. Thanks for having me on. It's great to sit down and chat with both of you, bob and Andrew, on this topic. I think first, I'd like to say there's certainly no question that we aren't saving our planet. But also there's no question that this has become one of the most talked about issues in political discourse today, as far as just climate change. If you look back at the 2016 presidential election, for example, you didn't see any discussion of climate change. Now, just a few months ago, you saw CNN doing an entire town hall with every Democratic candidate talking about climate change. And I happened to be traveling that day and I watched most of it, and I literally had my jaw drop to the floor as I saw people talk about crop cover and agriculture and things that I've been thinking about for a long time, but bringing it into the political discourse in a way that we haven't before.
What's not happening as much in this? Well, one, I what also is not happening is a strong U.S. Leadership in terms of climate change, but that we can get into later. But I also don't see enough people making the linkages between what's happening with climate change and what's happening with global hunger, as well as in terms of conflict. And they're all really interrelated.
So let me start by backing up and just talking about global hunger numbers. After a decade of progress, we've seen, the last three years, that global hunger is on the rise. And this is a big deal, because we had progress for a decade. The reason that more people are hungry, now three years in a row, is because of two reasons. One is conflict and one is climate change. And what's happening is that as we see more intense, more frequent climate shocks happening all around the world, the people that are feeling this impact the most are the people that have the least, and the people that are contributing the least to these greenhouse gas emissions.
When you look at the percentage of people across the world, 80% of those that are the hungriest are living in areas that are most prone to environmental degradation and natural disasters. And a lot of those people are also smallholder farmers. There's a lot of linkages here to our food systems. But when you have small holder farmers that are dependent on rain fed agriculture, and there is now too much rain or too little rain, it makes a big difference in their lives.
Bob Schieffer: Andrew?
Andrew Schwartz: Kimberly, today, as the world is meeting in Spain for the conference on climate change, do you think they'll be addressing global hunger as one of the issues that's on the table?
Kimberly Flowers: I don't know if global hunger will enter the conversation. I haven't looked at the agenda. I would be shocked if agriculture didn't. Those are often interchangeable, but not always so much. They're different categories. And the reason I bring up agriculture is because agriculture contributes 25% of our global greenhouse gas emissions. So there's this interesting circle or cyclical thing happening between agriculture, both contributing to climate change, as well as being a great solution to climate change in terms of whether it's soil sequestration or other areas that we could use agriculture to help mitigate, adapt, and respond to climate change.
Andrew Schwartz: So tell us what the linkages between the warnings and reports that we're reading about from the UN about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and the number of people in the world that we know that are hungry.
Kimberly Flowers: Yeah. Well, when you look at a lot of the reports, they're just sounding the alarm so loudly. I don't know what else we need. Every single report, whether you're looking at unprecedented biodiversity loss we have, or the land use and how that contributes. It's just subtopic after subtopic after subtopic, you're seeing these dramatic statistics and warnings coming out. But I don't see the action behind it.
Andrew Schwartz: And why don't we see that action? What is it going to take? We have activists all over the world. We have 16 year olds activists, Greta Thunberg, who's shaming us, saying, "Why are you ruining my future?" And we have people who you just mentioned who don't really have a voice, who can't say much. What is it that we're not hearing, here?
Kimberly Flowers: It's a great question. I think a lot of it comes down to behavior change and choices. People like to live lives the way. they live it. It's very hard to shift our behaviors dramatically, which is what it's going to take. Right? Whether it's shifting-
Andrew Schwartz: All of us.
Kimberly Flowers: All of us. That's the thing, is it's got to be shifting, whether it's transportation or whether it's diets or it's business, it's energy. It touches on so many different levels. But what it comes down to individual comforts. People want to be able to go to the store and buy whatever they want to eat. People want to drive and do transportation however they so choose. They don't want to change their lifestyle. They don't want to have to dramatically change their lifestyle in a way that they're just not ready to do. And that most people, particularly a predominantly American audience, is simply unaware and not thinking about the real impact this is having on the vulnerable people and the impoverished community and most of the world.
Andrew Schwartz: Do you think people feel that the problem is so big that any little thing that they might do, like maybe they change from having a gas burning vehicle to an electric vehicle, might not really contribute to making the world a safer place?
Kimberly Flowers: Absolutely. A lot of young people who are the real drivers in this, and I think will be the drivers for change on this, have often said that to me after I've done talks. They'll say, "I don't really know what I could do that would make a difference." Right? I do think it's the collective individual action, but it's got to be bigger action. It's got to be a change in our policies and our behavior. A good example of something I think a lot of people don't think about in terms of food security and climate change is food waste. Around the world, about 30% of our food is wasted. And what people don't usually understand is that that actually contributes 8% to global greenhouse emissions. And if you combined all the food waste that there was in the world and created it like its own country, it would come in third after the United States and China. So people aren't thinking through things that are quite simple, like how food waste could contribute to this.
Bob Schieffer: But you're talking about people don't like to change. It may come to a point here and not in the too far away future, when we simply have to. I'm going through some of these statistics and things in this report. Temperatures are on track to rise 3.2 degrees Celsius, 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century. If they are to continue on the current trajectory, the ramifications of this warning would be catastrophic. Scientists say that coral reefs would dissolve, oceans would become acidified, coastal cities would be flooded, and many areas of the world could become uninhabitable due to the severe heat.
Kimberly Flowers: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bob Schieffer: Why is nobody worried about this? Why is nobody concerned? I know there are certain people who are concerned. But I don't hear people out on the street talking about it.
Kimberly Flowers: Right. I don't either, and I'm not quite sure what's going to take. One thing that that might be a tipping point is going to be food prices. You certainly see when suddenly people have to pay more money, especially for staple crops, that can get peoples' attention. In fact, there is even evidence, particularly from the 2007-2008 food price spikes that we saw, there were urban riots, dozens of urban riots all around the world. So there's also some insecurity connections here. But I think when we think about how this relates to the food system, then that relates to the food that we eat and the food that we buy. And everyone eats, all day long. So I think that's something that can be very human and something that we know that could impact us on a daily basis.
You asked me at the beginning, Bob, about the research project that I just did. So, with some colleagues of mine, we wrote a policy brief looking at food insecurity and climate change and the connections. And one of the things we mention in it is talking about how these increase in temperatures that you just talk about, how it's going to decrease our crop yields. And we're going to have to continue to produce more food as we have this increasing population. The other thing that's interesting about the increase in temperatures is also reduces the nutritional quality of some of our crops. I think a lot of people are not aware of that, as well. And also, it increases pests and diseases. And so as the temperatures rise, it invites more fungi and pests to come in, and can destroy crops.
And you're seeing that across the globe. I remember being in Bangladesh three years ago, and I was there to look at food security programs funded by the U.S. government, and I met some wheat farmers that had traditionally grown other crops, but they had been convinced to grow wheat for different reasons. And it just so happens the week that I was there was the first time that these farmers had discovered a wheat fungus that had never been seen in the country before. And so, global borders mean nothing. But as we see these rises in temperatures and too many floods or too many droughts, it has a huge impact on our crops and the food that we're growing.
Bob Schieffer: Do you think the current administration takes this seriously? Because I'm looking at the delegations that are at the climate change conference in Madrid right now. And Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, leads a Democratic delegation. And it's my understanding that the administration has sent a very small delegation. And as I understand it, and some of this comes, I think, from your research, their main focus is to make sure that it's a level playing field that protects U.S. interests. That didn't seem to be talking about trying to solve the problem.
Kimberly Flowers: That does not seem to be strong leadership. Certainly not strong U.S. leadership. Yeah. The short answer here is that this administration has taken a huge step back in terms of leadership on the global stage with climate change. I don't really think the full United States has fully taken a step back. There is a lot of private sector industry, states, who have said, "Doesn't matter what you say about Paris climate change accord. We are going to make our own commitments on this." So I do think there's a lot of Americans who are dedicated.
But in terms of U.S. leadership and on the political level, we are really falling behind. And this makes a big difference, because what the U.S, does in terms of its leadership makes an impact on the global stage. Whether it's looking at our development dollars, our humanitarian aid, or other aspects, what we say and do matters.
Bob Schieffer: If you had a wish, what would be your wish for the next thing that would happen here?
Kimberly Flowers: Hmm, that's a great question. My wish is that we would significantly increase our humanitarian and development dollars, that we would make climate change a central pillar of that in all of our programming, and that we would put the global needs of others on a higher plane or priority than it currently stands.
Andrew Schwartz: UN Secretary General Guterres says that global warming could pass, "The point of no return." So if we're at that point of no return, and the United States isn't showing this global leadership... But as you pointed out, we are in the states. Some businesses are, prominent people in the United States are. What are some of the things that we can do? Specifically, what do you recommend in terms of food security issues that can be done right now?
Kimberly Flowers: Hmm. Great question. I think the first thing I would say is just increase awareness. Increase your own self-awareness about the luxuries that you have compared to others in the world. And that sounds really simple, but I think a lot of people are simply unaware of how grateful they should be for what they have. And then I would consider small changes, such as diet, for example. I'm not saying everyone should be vegan or vegetarian. I'm not. I eat a predominantly plant based diet, but not fully. But there's an EAT-Lancet report that came out this year that talked about how, in order to save our planet, we have got to reduce our consumptions of meat. That's one way that-
Andrew Schwartz: Yeah. I know some people who've quit drinking milk, for instance. They believe that dairy is contributing too much to global warming. So they're now drinking almond milk, for instance. Is that something? Is that a change?
Kimberly Flowers: I think that is something. Especially, when you look at livestock. So, livestock in general contributes 15% of all greenhouse, globally. So if you reduce your consumption of dairy or meat, you are reducing the consumer demand for the livestock industry. I do want to be clear when I say these things that it's going to take more than eating less meat, and I also think that protein is incredibly important, especially for those in the developing world. An egg a day can make a huge difference to a child's nutrition. But I think it's a lot of the little things as far as thinking about what we're eating, thinking about we're consuming. Everything from reduction of plastic to recycling. But it's going to take greater action. It's going to take more Gretas. It's going to take more protests for us to say to our government and others, "No, we really want a dramatic change here. We really want something different."
Andrew Schwartz: It seems to me we're going to need global leaders with the kind of passion that Nelson Mandela brought to South Africa, at the global level, on global climate change, and a bunch of them to really address this issue and get a commitment from people all over the world to really function on this issue. Because there's a set of issues, as you pointed out.
Kimberly Flowers: Oh, yeah. Yeah. One of the issues that I think a lot of people aren't also making in terms of linkages here are related to migration and conflict. When we think about migration, just in the Northern triangle alone, if you look at the percentage of families that depend on agriculture, and then you look at the droughts that used to last weeks and now last months, you see farmers abandoning the lands. First, they migrate to cities. Then they see a lack of opportunity. They're dealing with violence. Then they migrate farther North. Let's just look at Guatemala, for example. In the highlands of Guatemala, that is the area of the country that is most vulnerable to climate change. It's also the area of the country where about 70% of the people that live there are indigenous, rural, and almost exclusively depend on agriculture. So you have a area that has high malnutrition rates, some of the worst rates in the world, and then they're dealing with droughts and they don't know what else to do. And so they're migrating. They're looking for new opportunities.
Andrew Schwartz: Yeah. On average, 250,000 people are leaving the Northern triangle, which is Guatemala, El Salvador...
Kimberly Flowers: Honduras.
Andrew Schwartz: ... and Honduras every year.
Kimberly Flowers: Yes.
Andrew Schwartz: And they're migrating where? They're migrating to the United States.
Kimberly Flowers: Yes. They're migrating to the United States. There's a combination of factors. Right? So it is also the violence. And it's also other issues. It's economic opportunities. But I don't hear enough people talking or thinking about climate change and agriculture and migration, and how those are linked together. And I just think that's a really critical point. Another one is around conflict. When you think about climate change and how it affects resources, you're starting to see across the globe, conflicts arise over, say, water.
I was in Nigeria last year, around this time, and we were there looking more at how agriculture could work in more fragile areas like Northeast Nigeria. But a couple of things that I also learned while I was there is you're starting to see conflicts between pastoralists and farmers. Pastoralists are farmers who are moving with their herds, and they're looking for water wells. Well, they're having to go further than ever before into areas they don't know because the water is evaporating. And as they do that, unfortunately, their herds are destroying farmland. And that is creating conflict and killings between farmers and pastoralists. And I think that's also something that not a lot of people recognize, the linkages between them.
Bob Schieffer: Talk a little bit about what's happening... We're talking about conflict in Afghanistan.
Kimberly Flowers: Well, in Afghanistan, Bob, right now we're seeing about a quarter of the population that's living in a state of severe acute food insecurity. And that number could even rise in the coming months. And one thing that's causing that is drastic weather events. So that includes both extreme droughts and extreme floods. And that's what's so interesting to me in places, whether it's Bangladesh or Afghanistan, is that you're not just seeing droughts or just seeing floods. You're actually seeing both in certain areas. So it goes back again to too much or too little rain, and populations who are dependent on that rain for a living.
Bob Schieffer: And how about in this country? What about our farmers?
Kimberly Flowers: That's a good question. I think farming in America is dramatically different than most of the other countries that we're talking about. It tends to be Big Ag with huge amount of land, has a lot more technology. Without a doubt, though, our farmers are still feeling the effects. What I think is most interesting when I think about domestic American farmers versus others is their access to technology, because, truly, technology is going to make a big difference here.
And let me just drill down more on what I mean by that. American farmers have access to things like drought tolerant seeds. Or it doesn't have to be GMO seeds. It can just be hybrid seeds or just better quality seeds in general. But seeds that can better withstand too little rain, for example. American farmers have more knowledge, they're literate, they have more funding and access to finance to get to those things. The smallholder farmers that I'm thinking about in the developing countries oftentimes don't have... Many times they're women, and they don't have access to finance, to knowledge, or these what we call inputs in the agriculture space.
Andrew Schwartz: Kimberly, let me ask you this. There's even a link to terrorism with this. Isn't there? And when we talk about the central Sahel in Africa... Talk about how Boko Haram and Al Shabaab actually capitalize on some of this.
Kimberly Flowers: Well, when it comes to conflicts, food is a political commodity. So it's used as a weapon of war. And it's been that case for a long time. So that isn't necessarily anything new. Famine is always manmade, and it's something that is often created when one warring side decides to isolate an area. What's interesting is in today's protracted conflicts, you have a multitude of players of armed and not armed and state and not state actors, and many of them are using food as a recruitment tool.
And just think about this for a minute. Imagine if you were a 15 year old boy. You have lost your father. You have lost some of your family. You see your mother and your siblings starving. And someone comes to you and says, "I will offer food for you and your family if you join us." I would consider. Right? And it's interesting. If you ever hear World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley speak, he often says that the food aid that they provide is the number one way to combat terrorism in many of these areas. And it's because they're on the ground reaching areas that no one else can and getting to populations and helping them be more secure, before they have to make a decision like that 15-year-old boy.
Andrew Schwartz: I mean, the World Food Program has a quote about the Sahel that really stood out to me. They called it a tragic master class in how violence and extreme weather feed into each other.
Kimberly Flowers: Yeah. In that area of the world, you have an area that is facing severe climate shocks. And at the same time they're dealing with this constant fragility and constant insecurity from these actors. And it's a really difficult place to try to eke out a livelihood when you've got those factors all around you.
Bob Schieffer: You made some recommendations to the U.S. Government. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
Kimberly Flowers: Sure. And the study you're referring to is a policy brief called Climate Change and Food Security, and it was co-written by myself as well as Chase Sova who works for, actually, the World Food Program USA, as well as Christian Man, who's a CSIS research fellow on our team, here. I want to give a huge amount of credit, especially, to Chase, who did a lot of the heavy lifting on that report. But as we thought through our recommendations, there was a couple of things that we talked through together. One was thinking through, of course, the U.S. role in this, U.S. leadership. And first and foremost it's that the U.S. needs to better establish itself as a leader. We are seeing, as we talked about before, whether it's this climate change summit or others, under this current administration, we have basically abandoned the mantle of global leadership. And that's got to shift in order for there, I think, to be the real global momentum that's needed.
On a more granular level, there's other things in our space such as, currently, USAID is going through a reorganization, the U.S. Agency for International Development. And as that's being reorganized, there's some very good things that are happening, but we feel like climate change is being lost. There's no more Office of Climate Change, for example. While resilience is good and a lot of the climate change is being folded into resilience programming, I think we need to do a little bit better on that. The other is thinking through how climate change food insecurity fits within our national security and diplomatic strategies. So that goes back to, I think, a question Andrew asked earlier, which is people are perhaps thinking about climate change but they're not integrating or linking into these other issues, in terms of security issues, in terms of our diplomatic power. How do we integrate and make climate change an issue across the board, whether we're looking at State Department programming, USAID, or many of our other programs that are funded by the U.S. government?
Bob Schieffer: Kimberly Flowers, we want to thank you for bringing us The Truth of the Matter on climate change and food security. Fascinating.
Kimberly Flowers: Thank you.
Bob Schieffer: I'm Bob Schieffer.
Andrew Schwartz: And I'm Andrew Schwartz.
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