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Frame climate change as a food issue

As IPCC report warns of climate impact on food security, researchers are looking at whether talking about food could break political deadlock on global warming.

Reframing climate change as a food issue as the world's leading scientists did this week could provide an opportunity to mobilise people, experts say.

Academics and campaigners were already looking at food as a way to better connect with public on climate change when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its finding on declining crop yields.

The report warned: "All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change." It said negative impacts on yields would become more likely in the 2030s.

The definitive report arrives at a time when researchers are actively looking at whether talking about climate change through the prism of food would help break through US political deadlock.

Food offers an immediate and personal connection, Rachel Kyte, the World Bank vice-president for climate change, said in an interview before the IPCC report's release.

"The public connects with these issues through food better than through any other issue in a way that we haven't been able to mobilise people by just telling them to drive a hybrid or switch the light off," she said.

"There is a way to talk about what you eat that will bring a conversation around climate change."

To start with, food is a universal concern, Kyte went on. "You want to be able to sustain your children. It a concern whether you are rich or poor," Kyte said. "I don't think we have put a huge focus on food and it's time we did."

There is evidence that those charged with producing food are already growing more concerned about climate change.

A long-running poll of farmers in the Iowa corn belt last year found a sharp rise in concern about climate change, following a drought that devastated harvests.

The farmers also expressed concerns that drought, flooding and other weather events would continue to drag on production, Dr Gordon Arbuckle, the Iowa State University sociologist who runs the poll, said at the time of its release.

"Scientists and other stakeholders in the agricultural community believe that our agricultural systems must become more resilient to ensure long-term food security," he said. "Many farmers are concerned and support taking action to meet that goal."

The report from the IPCC said food production on land and on sea had already been hit by drought, flooding and changing rainfall patterns, and would be further threatened as the world continues to warm.

"Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate," the report said, warning that even warming of 1C above recent temperatures would hurt yields for corn, wheat and rice.

By 2030, those crops could see yields decline by 2% a decade – at a time when demand from growing population is projected to grow by 2% every year.

Warming of 4C would widen those gaps dramatically, the report said. "For local warming of about 4C or more, differences between crop production and population driven demand will become increasingly large in many regions posing significant risks to food security even with adaptation."

Some fisheries could also go into decline. Some species of fish could become extinct, and some are migrating to the poles because ocean chemistry is out of balance. Fish yields in the tropics are already showing declines.

The stark language marked a departure from the last IPCC report in 2007 when the picture on food crops was more mixed, said Tim Gore, head of policy for food and climate change at Oxfam.

"This is no longer a picture about poor farmers in some regions being hit by climate change. This is a picture about global agriculture being hit – US, Russia, and Australia – with global implications for food prices."

And that, he said, would make people sit up and take notice.

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