Climate Change and Food Security: Incentives for U.S.-Asia Cooperation

28 May

By Mary Howard, PISA Program Assistant

With the recent releases of the United States’ third National Climate Change Assessment (NCA) and the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) book, The Environments of the Poor in Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Pacific, attention to impending climate change is accelerating.  Reports on climate change serve a vital function to present information from various disciplines, such as science and economics, in an integrated matter to inform society about complex processes. While the NCA and ADB’s works are regionally focused, both reports highlight parallels which strengthen the argument for global cooperation to mitigate and adapt as necessary to climate change.

The Global Change Research Act of 1990  requires the U.S. Global Change Research Programto produce an NCA every four years. The purpose of the NCA is to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The ADB’s publication inaugurates an upcoming three-volume series based on a 2010 conference that included diverse actors. While climate change often invokes negative and worrisome feelings, this report remains positive and argues that “reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and responding to climate change” can happen simultaneously as a “triple-win” situation.


A Burmese sunset over the rice paddy fields along the road to Mandalay just outside Myanmar’s capital city of Nay Pyi Daw on February 17, 2013. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan.

Both the NCA and ADB’s work describe the anticipated harms due to climate change: extreme weather, flooding, spread of infectious diseases and pests, infrastructure failures, and ecosystem collapses, many of which will have an impact on agriculture. A United Nations report predicts that by 2050, world population will be a staggering 9.6 billion people with Asians comprising the  major portion. Feeding 9.6 billion people in a world facing food security problems is a challenge. However, the NCA and ADB report are optimistic: with the correct policy implementation and technological innovations, agricultural production could increase. Climate change has the potential to affect agricultural systems positively and negatively, depending on location and other environmental factors. The key is to develop practices that will take advantage of any opportunities that the changing climate presents.


Food stall in Yangon, Myanmar on February 16, 2013. Photo credit: Sandi Moynihan

The NCA describes “climate change induced stresses,” which echo those in the ADB volume. China provides a useful case study for American policymakers, since the country’s decline in rural poverty rate coincides with increasing food production rates. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, China’s grain production increased from 285 kg per capita during the early 1980s to over 300 kg per capita onwards, except in 2003. In the chapter, “Climate Change, Food Security, and Poverty in the People’s Republic of China,” author Qi Gubo describes how Chinese farmers’ responses to climate change have been effective. Simple measures such as moving the crop sites, planting different crop varieties, producing drought-resistant crops and increasing greenhouse crop ventures has raised overall output. In a different chapter, “Conservation Agriculture in Cambodia,” authors describe current land use trials in Cambodia that may have international applications. In Cambodia, experts are experimenting with sustainable upland agriculture programs to support technical training for farmers, increase access to resources, and increase land-use efficiency.

Considering the global nature of climate change and its impact on food security, the U.S. and countries in Asia should continue to strengthen information sharing and policy cooperation. Effective collaboration already exists within multilateral venues such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. As these two reports issued this month reveal, climate change induced problems facing developing and developed countries are the same. However, each nation differs in its ability and resources to address climate change. While each country’s situation is unique, it is clear that there is much to learn from both hemispheres and all levels of development.


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