Food and Climate Change
The environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.
– Pope Francis
The term “weather” refers to how the atmosphere behaves in a specific area over a short period of time, usually hours or days. “Climate” refers to general weather patterns over a broad area for a long period of time. Both weather and climate account for qualities like temperature, precipitation, and humidity.
The global climate is warming at an unprecedented rate.1 An overwhelming body of evidence suggests global temperatures will continue to rise, and that human activities such as fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and agriculture are the dominant cause. These activities release greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, that trap the sun’s heat and warm the atmosphere—hence the name “greenhouse.” Natural processes also produce GHG emissions; however, these have generally been counterbalanced by the capacity of trees, soil, oceans, and other sinks (storehouses) to sequester (capture and store) emissions.
Climate change is among the greatest threats of our generation—and of generations to come—to public health, ecosystems, and the economy. The projected impacts of climate change, many of which are already occurring, include:
More frequent and intense hurricanes, floods, heat waves, and other extreme weather events
Increased heat-related deaths
Food and water shortages
Forced migration from rising sea levels and natural disasters
Increased damages from flooding and wildfires
Spreading insect-borne and water-borne diseases
Scientists and world leaders have called for immediate and dramatic action to reduce GHG emissions, enhance emissions sinks,2 and prepare for the impacts that are expected to occur.5 The food system is one of the areas where urgent interventions are needed most.