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Is Global Warming Making Us Hungrier?

Summary:
After achieving dramatic gains against hunger and famine, the world runs the risk of backsliding, owing to poorly considered choices. But if we accept the claim that climate change is to blame for a recent uptick in global hunger and malnutrition, we also risk embracing the costliest and least effective solutions. PRAGUE – For more than a decade, annual data showed global hunger to be on the decline. But that has changed: According to the latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hunger affected 815 million people in 2016, 38 million more than 2015, and malnutrition is threatening millions. The Year Ahead 2018 The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine

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After achieving dramatic gains against hunger and famine, the world runs the risk of backsliding, owing to poorly considered choices. But if we accept the claim that climate change is to blame for a recent uptick in global hunger and malnutrition, we also risk embracing the costliest and least effective solutions.

PRAGUE – For more than a decade, annual data showed global hunger to be on the decline. But that has changed: According to the latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hunger affected 815 million people in 2016, 38 million more than 2015, and malnutrition is threatening millions.

Research from my think tank, Copenhagen Consensus, has long helped to focus attention and resources on the most effective responses to malnutrition, both globally and in countries like Haiti and Bangladesh. Unfortunately, there are worrying signs that the global response may be headed in the wrong direction.

The FAO blames the rise in hunger on a proliferation of violent conflicts and “climate-related shocks,” which means specific, extreme events like floods and droughts.

But in the FAO’s press release, “climate-related shocks” becomes “climate change.” The report itself links the two without citing evidence, but the FAO’s communiqué goes further, declaring starkly, “World hunger again on the rise, driven by conflict and climate change.”

It may seem like a tiny step to go from blaming “climate-related shocks” to blaming “climate change.” Both terms relate to the weather. But that little difference means a lot, especially when it comes to the most important question: how do we help feed the world better? Jumping the gun and blaming climate change for today’s crises attracts attention, but it makes us focus on the costliest and least effective responses.

The best evidence comes from the United Nations’ climate change panel, the IPCC, which has clearly shown that there has been no overall increase in droughts. While some parts of the world are experiencing more and worse droughts, others are experiencing fewer and lighter droughts. A comprehensive study in the journal Nature demonstrates that, since 1982, incidents of all categories of drought, from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought,” have decreased slightly. On flooding, the IPCC is even blunter: It has “low confidence” at a global level whether climate change has caused more or less flooding.

Bjørn Lomborg
Bjørn Lomborg, a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School, is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which seeks to study environmental problems and solutions using the best available analytical methods. He was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2004.

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