How can the world feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment? This is one of the paramount questions the world faces over the next four decades.
Since the very first Earth Day more than four decades ago, the environmental movement has tackled a wide range of problems, including air pollution, contaminated water, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more. But this Earth Day, I propose that there are two fundamental issues the movement must address over the coming decade if it is ever to defuse the tension between development and the environment. In fact, these two issues underlie many, if not most, of the world’s environmental challenges.
The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.
Today is World Food Day, a chance for people all over the world to focus on approaches to end global hunger. Celebrated each year to commemorate the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this day provides us with an opportunity to assess where the world is today in regard to food security – and what we’ll all have to do in the future to achieve it.
The Cancun Adaptation Framework agreed during COP16 provides potential for a new action orientation to adaptation under the UNFCCC. COP17 in Durban presents a big opportunity to resolve several critical pieces of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, to integrate and streamline the many strands of adaptation negotiations, and to move forward on helping countries around the world adapt. Expectations of significant progress on adaptation are high – especially since Durban is an “African COP,” taking place on a continent where vulnerability to climate change is palpable and affects so many people’s future. But the Durban adaptation agenda is long, and negotiation time limited, so Parties have no time to waste. Key issues are summarized here:
A third of Thailand is under water. Epic floods have taken people's lives, destroyed businesses and crops, and are now sweeping into Bangkok. As the capital braces itself, some people are beginning to point fingers at various culprits: the unusually heavy rains possibly linked to climate change, ineffective communications within government, and poor infrastructure decisions.
Conditions are changing in our world. Some are feeling the impact now, from the heat wave and wildfires in Russia of the last two years, the devastating floods in Pakistan and Australia, tornadoes in the United States, mudslides in Brazil, drought in China. Others are worrying about the impacts to come: the tea growers in Kenya’s highlands who are seeing cases of malaria they didn’t see only five years ago; the cocoa farmers in Ghana who think about how changes in rainfall will affect their sensitive crops; the rice farmers in Vietnam who are increasingly concerned about rising water levels.
Can the current food production system feed a growing population in a changing climate while sustaining ecosystems? The answer is an emphatic “no.” A new approach is imperative and overdue, one in which the world feeds more people—an estimated 9 billion by 2050—with less ecological impact. To be successful, this new approach must address both how we produce and how we use food.