The world’s richest countries will meet at the G7 summit in Germany from June 26-28. The G7 includes the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United States. This year, as usual, leaders from Argentina, India, Indonesia, Senegal and South Africa have been invited. Among other pressing issues, food security and climate change should be at the top of the agenda of world leaders.
Climate change has had adverse effects global food security, water and hunger. To understand this better, TOI speaks with Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, which is a global movement of people fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice.
Excerpts from the interview…
Is this the worst food insecurity we face due to climate change?
The food crisis we face is extremely serious, and probably unprecedented. It is a combination of several crises at the same time. We started with a pandemic, but underlying that is the climate crisis impacting food security and extreme hunger, near starvation conditions. What is worrying is the number of people affected by conditions of extreme hunger, even in the rich world. Much of the world’s attention has been focused on the conflict in Ukraine and, unfortunately, the hunger crisis has increased in recent months. If we don’t act quickly, it will reach catastrophic levels.
For the first time in about 15 years, India has seen a massive drop in wheat production due to extreme heat. This forced the government to suspend overseas wheat sales to manage its food security. Was the G7 right to criticize this decision?
India is one of the largest wheat producers in the world and also has one of the largest populations. It is therefore understandable that India needs to feed its people but, in the same way, its food must be available all over the world. And a system that is less dependent on imports and exports. Countries should be able to rely more on smallholders and sustainable agriculture.
The 2022 World Food Policy Report from the International Food Policy Research Institute warned that climate change will push more Indians towards hunger by 2030 due to lower production agriculture and disruption of the food supply chain. Do you think Indian and other governments are taking these reports seriously?
Long-term planning is something that is missing as an integrated approach on a global scale. And we really need multilateral institutions to step in and make sure our responses are consistent. We know from research and expert groups what needs to be done, how much investment is needed. What we need is political will and coordination to make it happen.
Is this political will visible? Or is it just all talk?
Many announcements are being made and ideas are popping up about global food coalitions. But no concrete plan is happening, no goals are set and no funding. We know that there are funds and there are opportunities to free up funds, for example through windfall taxes, but also by taxing wealth. Currently, the vast majority of taxes in the world are related to income or consumption. Around 4% of total tax revenue worldwide comes from wealth taxation. It is therefore a completely untapped source that would allow us to have resources for the countries themselves to invest in their own food security, but also to support through and ensure that in 2022, and until 2030 we let’s not have hunger situations in the world.
Do countries understand the need to support each other?
There are good examples of solidarity that we can see throughout history, but we must redouble our efforts in times of crisis. There may be a tendency to take care of your own. But that’s exactly when we have to think differently and really think that we are completely connected to the world. We really need to be connected and understand that actions in one part of the world have impacts in the other part of the world. And the climate crisis is really where this is most clearly evident. For example, Bangladesh is currently experiencing extreme flooding and some in India as well. So these unprecedented impacts hopefully help people realize that this is not something of the future. We must make the resources available before it is too late.
Do you think many countries are even aware that climate change and the food crisis are a double-edged sword? Do you think there is acceptance?
There is a growing understanding of connection. It has been accompanied by the suffering of millions of people, and so there have been problems of food insecurity and even famine in the past. But the levels of starvation conditions that we are currently experiencing are very high, and 193 million people are currently in these circumstances. And, unfortunately, it is growing. It is important that we respond not only with immediate, but also long-term life support. I hope this inspires leaders, governments and citizens to push for the importance of investing in climate and adaptation, so that we have sustainable livelihoods in the future and can make sure we have enough food for everyone.
Do citizens put enough pressure on governments?
I think citizens can do a lot. We can all be inspired by so many young climate activist leaders around the world. We really need to understand the power of the collective of citizens who can really pressure and remind leaders of their responsibilities and address these long-term challenges.
The impact of climate change on water availability is expected to be severe. Considering that in India more than 60% of cultivated land is rainfed, how can the government improve the situation here?
We need to ensure that our water supplies are sustainable and also allow for the climate change that, unfortunately, is already going to happen. So that we have irrigation methods that are less dependent on seasonal rains, because these change.
When we talk about food security, we only focus on dimensional food production. But do you think that climate change also has an impact on other dimensions such as access and use? And how can countries solve this problem?
It is important to have a complete and holistic analysis. And these are systemic changes that must be put in place so it is not enough to act on one aspect without taking into account the other. It’s hard, and we’re all in a situation that we might not want to be in. But because there has been inaction for so long, the systemic changes needed – which are complex and far-reaching – are now urgent. We really need to make these investments because we are wasting precious time that could be used to prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
Will the G7 meeting end as a mini-COP? Do you expect anything positive?
It is very important that the G7 be followed by concrete actions. There was an announcement about a comprehensive meal plan, but with no clarity on how it will be implemented. It is very important that the G7 countries increase their commitments to reduce emissions, as they are essential for us all to achieve the goals. It is important that promises are followed by action. Last year, the G7 promised to vaccinate the world. Currently, only 18% of people in the poorest countries are vaccinated. So we need to make sure that the promises made at the G7 are kept, and that will build trust, and it’s actually the G7 that has the capability and the opportunity; those countries that have the resources that can really change the equation with the funding they can bring to the table, as well as the expertise and accountability for their historic contribution to the climate crisis.
Should the developed world accept a drop in its perceived standard of living to compensate for rising standards in the developing world?
The rich world is collectively responsible for 92% of excess emissions since the start of industrialization. It is therefore responsible for the rapid reduction of emissions. With all the pledges made by countries and companies added together, we would need 1.6 billion hectares of land, six times the size of India, to plant trees. So simply pursuing the mindset of growth in this limited planetary space will not solve the problem of the climate crisis. It’s about reducing emissions and the rich world reconsidering its consumption levels, especially the richest, the billionaires. 1% of humanity has double the emissions of the bottom 50%, and a billionaire or someone in the 1% is many more people than the 2,700 billionaires. The 1% consumes 30 times what would be consistent with a warming goal of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
What should a properly funded plan to tackle the food crisis look like?
There is a ten-year plan produced by groups of experts on food security. The question is how to finance it, and there is enough money in the world right now. It is in those companies that are making very large access profits, and also in billionaires who are accumulating much more wealth than before. So over the past 24 months, during the pandemic, the wealth of billionaires has exploded in the same way that large sectors of the corporate world have had excess profits.
(This story is part of the Covering Climate Now global media collaboration)