Taking action in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability

Lynne Featherstone's closing address to the meeting on agriculture, jobs, food security and climate.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Lynne Featherstone

Thank you for coming to this meeting on the implications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability for agriculture, jobs and food security. I’m pleased to see the wide range of stakeholders here today, especially from civil society and the private sector. Your engagement is crucial in helping tackle the issue of climate change.

Unfortunately I was not able to be here for the whole meeting. I am therefore grateful to Camilla Toulmin for her clear summary. It sounds like it was a productive morning!

For me, the IPCC report has some messages for how we manage climate change. Unmitigated climate change poses great risks to human health, global food security, and economic development and the effects are already widespread.

It is essential to remember that mitigation is the only real, long term, solution to reducing emissions and avoiding dangerous climate change. It must not be overlooked. That is why the UK Government is working towards an ambitious deal in Paris in 2015.

The IPCC report has a number of important messages:

Climate change is an extra burden for those living in poverty. Floods and droughts continue to cause suffering. These affect livelihoods by reducing crop yields as well as destroying homes, as we saw in the Philippines.

Climate change can slow down economic growth, making it harder to reduce the number of people living in poverty, and it can also create new poverty traps particularly in urban areas.

We can already see the impact climate change is having. Rainfall patterns are changing. Glaciers are shrinking. The permafrost is thawing. Droughts in last decade in Russia and Australia, and other regions, have contributed to higher food prices. Closer to home in the UK this winter we have seen how flooding affects farms, homes and devastates people’s lives.

The IPCC predicts the impacts of heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires are all likely to increase.

The report also predicts that climate change, without adaptation, will reduce yields for the world’s major crops: wheat, rice and maize. Some projections predict yield losses of 25% by 2050. This will cause some serious challenges as demand is expected to rise. As a result the gap between supply and demand is simply going to widen.

Farmers and pastoralists in semi-arid regions will be particularly vulnerable to shortages in water for crops and livestock. Fish catches in the tropics are also predicted to go down, impacting on incomes and diet.

Something needs to be done, and urgently to avert a crisis.

Achieving a deal in Paris is the first step towards a solution. We are working for an outcome which reduces emissions and keeps increases in the global average temperatures to under 2°C. The report states warming of over 4°C will cause severe, pervasive and irreversible change. We must avoid this at all cost.

The IPCC is clear on the importance of helping people adapt to climate change. It shows how governments are already developing plans and policies to integrate climate-change into broader and longer term development. The UK is doing this at home, and is helping developing countries build resilience to climate change overseas.

The UK is spending up to 50% of our International Climate Fund on helping poor communities adapt and become more resilient. Through the Fund we are focusing efforts on key areas including agriculture, food and water security.

Let me give you some examples of what we are doing.

First, we are supporting the International Fund for Agriculture Development’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). Michel Mordasini, IFAD’s Vice President, is with us today. I am really pleased to see the significant progress ASAP has made since our Deputy Prime Minister announced UK support of up to £150 million during the Rio+20 conference in 2012.

I was glad to see ASAP win an award last November, annouced by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, for its innovative work to deliver social and economic benefits to smallholder farmers. Well done.

ASAP now has 12 projects under implementation. In Mali, ASAP is helping to reduce pressure on scarce natural resources, generate labour and time-saving opportunities for women, and is helping build resilience to climate change by increasing access to improved and drought tolerant crops.

It is also introducing innovative biogas energy sources. Using this clean energy source reduces exposure to indoor air pollution, something that kills over 2.5 million people annually, the majority of whom are women and children.

Natural disasters brought on by climate change can have enormous costs. The floods in Pakistan in 2010 affected more than 20 million people and caused damages of over US$10 billion [around £6 billion]. Women are especially vulnerable in these disasters. For example in Burma during Cyclone Nargis in 2008 over 61% killed were women.

That’s why we are helping build the resilience especially of women to these disasters. One way we are doing this is through the BRACED programme. This stands for Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters. Through BRACED we are providing grants to 21 projects led by NGOs to scale up activities in South Asia and Africa with a focus on improving agricultural practices.

One project led by Oxfam is helping 1.5 million people living in the coastal and dry zones of Burma to become better at coping with floods, droughts and cyclones. In Ethiopia a project led by Farm Africa is working with the private sector to help build the resilience of over 300,000 people. This will include better access to financial services, including insurance schemes and the promotion of new avenues for savings and credit.

The private sector has an important role to play in building resilience. At Davos this year the global business community identified water supply for agriculture and industrial processes as one of their top 4 risks. We are helping build partnerships between the public and private sectors through our support to International Water Stewardship Programme – a joint initiative with the German Development Agency, GIZ, to address these risks.

For example, in South Africa the Emfuleni Municipality and SASOL, a major chemical and energy company, identified that access to water was a problem for both households and SASOL. The Municipality and SASOL developed a joint initiative to improve infrastructure and water efficiency. This partnership, brokered by International Water Stewardship Programme, resulted in increased access to a safe and more reliable water supply for 330,000 households while helping SASOL reduce its water consumption by 15% but maintain productivity. A win-win.

We also support one of today’s hosts, the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security research programme which has projects in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia it has a project assessing the needs of farmers for climate information and its dissemination through mobile phones. It is also importantly, through meetings like today, helping communicate research evidence to policy makers.

Innovations and technologies are important. We supported the World Agroforestry Centre and its African partners on the use of fertiliser trees and shrubs. Results have been impressive. In Malawi, farms planted with these trees can produce up to two tonnes more maize per hectare while helping farmers to adapt a changing climate by making their crops more resilient to drought.

We are also utilising British expertise by working with the UK Met Office Hadley Centre to help African forecasters improve the prediction of droughts and heavy rains. Later this year, we will launch a major new project called Future Climate for Africa with the Natural Environment Research Council. This will work in sub-Saharan Africa to improve climate prediction models. Forewarning of droughts and floods saves lives, and the improved information produced by this programme is expected to help millions of people in Africa.

In sum, we are working extensively with the public and private sector to tackle the impacts of climate change. The IPCC report demonstrates that there is still a long way to go. The private sector and civil society have a key role to play in scaling up the international response. You have heard today about the effects of climate change for developing countries but also how much can be done to adapt to these. Camilla in her summary set out a number of actions. I look forward to hearing about how you get on. Whether you are an academic, a researcher, a member of civil society, a policy maker or from the private sector – you all have a job to do. The IPCC report has underlined the importance of taking more action. Now is the time to act.

Before I conclude I would like to thank Willis Re, and Rowan Douglas, Chairman of the Willis Research Network, for hosting this meeting, and to the organisations who helped make this happen: the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Research Programme; the International Fund for Agriculture Development; the World Bank; and, Prince Charles’ International Sustainability Unit.

Thank you.

Published 22 April 2014