The New Culprit of Global Hunger: Climate Change and Ineffective Global Governance

A freshly pressed suit and tie, a briefcase in hand, and a security clearance badge are the central images often associated with our modern global international governance system. Images, though, often differ from reality.

In the Horn of Eastern Africa, millions of humans’ crowd into refugee camps seeking some form of humanitarian aid from the terrible famine caused by the ongoing severe drought and political unrest. Malnutrition is a universal issue that we cannot afford to overlook. 1 in 3 women of reproductive-age women are anemic, while 39% of the world’s adults are overweight or obese and each year around 20 million babies are born underweight. Malnutrition increases the risk of infection and infectious disease, and moderate malnutrition weakens every part of the immune system.  Malnutrition and global hunger are projected to increase in the next decade, due to accelerated climate change and ineffective global governance.

During the last 50 years, the United Nations has focused a good deal of its resources and policies on alleviating and eventually abolishing world hunger. For example, one of the Sustainable Development Goals is to reach zero hunger.  In the first decade of the 21st century, global hunger was steadily declining, while today hunger is actually increasing.

One reason? Climate change. Climate change is now one of the biggest drives of world hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimate that hunger afflicted over 821 million people in 2017, the third consecutive year where we saw hunger on the rise. This increase can be attributed to increasing frequency of droughts, floods, and extreme weather events like powerful hurricanes and typhoons. The million-dollar question now becomes, are we doing enough to address climate change and ensure that rates of global hunger and malnutrition are declining?

The 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York City to begin a series of talks and debates on issues plaguing the world such a global hunger, disease and climate change.  U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that our fossil fuel dependence is a “direct existential threat” to global security and reprimanded global leaders for not acting on such urgent matters. In his address to the General Assembly, Gutters declared that “climate change is the greatest challenge of our time” and called for a special climate summit in September 2019 to once more, bring climate change and global hunger to the top of the international political agenda.

International agencies like the United Nations have been at the center of climate politics. However, in the past 25 years, very little tangible change has occurred. The 2015 Paris Accord set the standard to reduce global temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.  However, reports of each individual countries’ pledge to reduce emissions show that countries are distant from reaching their goals. Most international treaties are not legally binding, so there is no enforcement or incentive for individual countries to meet their goals.

Climate change is also systemic affecting multiple groups of people throughout the globe in form of hunger and malnourishment.  During a recent vacation to Puerto Vallarta, I observed first-hand the impacts of an ongoing drought on the regional agro-economy. Maize plants withered away under the scorching heat. Many peasant farmers I met were left hungry and their land was left in ruins.

Most international problems cannot be solved by one country alone; it is only by collaboration that we can institute global change. All of us need to be part of the solution. Our habits cannot be sustained if we do not care for the people whose backs our comfortable living is built off of.

The good news is that we all can contribute to a solution.  It is time to hold our politicians accountable. Use your voice. Call the Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General and demand that António Guterres invoke the powers vested to him in the UN Charter and call for an emergency Security Council and General Assembly meeting. If Secretary General Guterres truly believes that that climate change, malnutrition and global hunger are an existential threat, he needs to act now.  Enough of the bureaucracy, it is time for some action!

Isaí Rea is a student of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.

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