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From Paris: Climate Change Impacts On Global And Local Food

Wind-power trees, part of many installations at COP21 in Paris.
Tegan Wendland
Wind-power trees, part of many installations at COP21 in Paris.

In Paris, international climate change negotiations continue. Drafts of the negotiating text are circulating, as the delegates meet in working groups behind closed doors. Meanwhile governments and agencies are releasing new reports and studies to highlight the serious impact of climate change. That includes new information on how climate change affects basic human survival through food production.

As ocean temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more frequent, our access to reliable food sources is changing. It’s not just poor countries that are worried. The US Department of Agriculture released a report this week on climate change, citing shifting threats.


“Whether it’s the California drought, the wildfires in the western part of the states, or the fact that we’re seeing growing seasons in some parts of the United States, and in some parts, shrinking,” says US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.


That could change US exports. The US sends a lot of grain and other food products to developing countries, much of it through the Port of New Orleans. Martin Frick, with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, says access to food should be a top priority.


“Food security is really simple," says Frick. "Food security means that everybody on this planet – really everybody – has enough to eat and has nutritional food. It is not only a question of calories, it is also about micronutrients, calories, all the stuff that your body needs on a daily basis.”


Tropical areas are some of the most vulnerable to food insecurity because species end up migrating somewhere cooler when it gets too hot. And people in the tropics rely a lot on seafood, like we do in subtropical Louisiana. The state produces 25 percent of all US seafood, according to the LSU AgCenter.


And Frick says 17 percent of the animal protein that people eat worldwide comes from fish, particularly in poor areas, "where coastal fishing is one of the main sources of animal protein."


"But we’re losing fish stocks due to the warming of the oceans and due to the warming of the ocean’s fish stocks are going to colder waters," he says. "So they’re lost particularly for coastal fisheries.” He notes acidification caused by ocean warming also impacts shellfish.

Bernard Combes teaches farmers, fishermen and consumers how to deal with all of these changes as a specialist in education for sustainable development with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He says those who fish for a living or to feed their families are particularly vulnerable.


"So if you’re a fisherman and you’re used to catching certain types of fish and certain types of crustaceans you’ll have to possibly change your method of fishing,” he says.


The Union of Concerned Scientists says by 2100, summers on Earth will be about five degrees warmer, on average, and storm intensity and sea level rise will increase.

In the host country of France, Combes says global warming is already impacting something essential to French culture, if not life itself: wine.


“If the climate gets warmer, particularly if you’re dealing with white wines, it will be much more difficult to produce good white wines," he says, "unless you do like they do in South Africa and you actually collect the grapes, like they do, in the night.”

France won’t starve, he says. But that’s not a given for other countries. That’s why the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization announced a new program to cut food waste, and another initiative to cut emissions from the practice of farming itself. An irony of the global food system: The UN says 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production.  

Support for the coastal desk’s reporting from Paris is provided by the Foundation for Louisiana.

Support also comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.Support for WWNO's reporting from Paris comes from The Foundation for Louisiana.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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