Extreme heat was a factor in tens of millions of people reporting moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020, adding to the strain of skyrocketing food prices and multiple global crises, a new report has found.
The publication, The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels, was published Tuesday. It explored the impact the world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels is having on global health — and painted a dire picture of the direction the world is headed in.
“Climate change is increasingly undermining global food security, exacerbating the effects of the COVID-19, geopolitical, energy, and cost-of-living crises,” the report found.
Relative to what was reported annually between 1981 and 2010, extreme heat was associated with 98 million more people reporting moderate to severe food insecurity in 2020 in the 103 countries analyzed, according to the report.
That’s because increasingly extreme weather, a reality driven in large part by the world’s changing climate, “worsens the stability of global food systems,” the authors explained.
Extreme heat compounds on a number of other issues that have impacted food security in recent years.
The report found that in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 161 million more people faced hunger than in 2019. In 2022, the situation is believed to have “worsened,” with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and affordability issues weighing on people worldwide.
“Impacts on international agricultural production and supply chains (are) threatening to result in 13 million additional people facing undernutrition in 2022,” the report warned.
Part of the problem is the impact that high temperatures have on crop growth. Extreme heat can lead to “fast crop maturation,” which the report said “reduces the maximum potential yield that could be achieved with no limitations of water or nutrients.”
Compared with the average during 1981–2010, the report found that average crop growth season lengths in 2021 have shortened for a number of key staples: the crop growth season for maize is down more than nine days, rice’s growth season is down almost two days, and winter and spring wheat has shaved six days off its growth season.
The release of the report comes as the House of Commons agriculture committee is set to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issue of global food insecurity, where members of Parliament will hear from a number of Canadian agriculture industry stakeholders.
Canadians have felt the impact of soaring food costs first-hand, as grocery prices in September rose at the fastest pace since 1981. Prices were up 11.4 per cent compared with a year ago — compared with an overall inflation rate of 6.9 per cent.
The skyrocketing prices prompted Canada’s competition watchdog to launch a study of the grocery industry to examine whether the highly concentrated sector is contributing to rising food costs.
While climate change is impacting how much people are the world can eat, changing how we eat can actually help to mitigate climate change.
The report found that an “accelerated transition” to “balanced and more plant-based diets” would help reduce 55 per cent of the emissions that come from red meat and milk production, but also prevent “up to 11.5 million diet-related deaths annually” as well as “substantially” reduce the risk of zoonotic diseases.
Heat-related deaths up 68% over last 20 years, new report says
The new report found heat exposure is taking more lives around the world today than it did two decades ago.
Heat-related deaths increased by 68 per cent between 2000-2004 and 2017-2021, the publication warned.
The finding comes as headline-grabbing heatwaves brought scorching temperatures to city streets around the globe in the last two years.
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In July, parts of the European Union were hit with a record-breaking heatwave, sparking wildfires in Spain, France and Portugal. Excess mortality in July amounted to roughly 53,000 deaths when compared with the monthly averages for 2016-2019, EU’s statistics office Eurostat said.
In B.C. in the summer of 2021, a boiling heatwave saw at least 719 people die over a one-week stretch — three times more than what would normally have been expected over the same period, according to the province’s coroner’s office.
Taking a health-centred approach to tackling climate change would help to mitigate the most “catastrophic” impacts of global warming, the report argued.
It recommended that governments around the world reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, pointing out that the carbon intensity of the global energy system has decreased “by less than 1 per cent” since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was established in 1994.
“Simultaneously, the total energy demand has risen by 59 per cent, increasing energy-related emissions to a historical high in 2021,” the report said.
“Current policies put the world on track to a catastrophic 2.7°C increase by the end of the century.”
— With files from the Canadian Press, Reuters