The climate crisis and hunger

Source(s): World Food Programme
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If we do not limit global heating and support people to adapt, we will see destabilization, migration and starvation. Current humanitarian needs will seem small compared to the potential rise if the world fails to tackle climate change.

The challenge

2021 was the third-costliest year on record for climate-related disasters, totalling US$329 billion in economic losses and accounting for four mega- disasters with response costs of over US$ 20 billion.1 More frequent and intense droughts, floods and storms were reported across the globe leading to widespread food insecurity, crippling agricultural production, devastating livelihoods and forcing people from their homes.

These patterns are in line with findings from the latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which issued grave warnings that climate change is already causing dangerous and widespread disruption. If emissions are not reduced, the risk of food supply shocks will greatly increase with harvests failing simultaneously in multiple major food-producing countries, leading to shortages and price spikes. Food productivity growth is already down 21 percent because of global heating.

Climate change does not act in isolation, but compounds existing vulnerabilities and makes risks increasingly complex and difficult to manage. The IPCC report highlighted that the world risks surpassing 1.5°C of warming in the next two decades which, even if temporarily exceeded, would result in irreversible impacts. Every inhabited region of the world experiences the effects of climate change, but not all in the same way. Over 40 percent of the global population already lives in places that are highly vulnerable to climate impacts. These communities contribute least to the problem but are faced with the worst impacts and have limited means to cushion the blows.

The world is underinvesting in climate action. Climate finance is risk averse and fails to reach areas where losses and damages outpace the capabilities of governments and the international aid system to respond. According to the UNDP Climate Finance for Sustaining Peace Report, over the past seven years, extremely fragile states averaged US$2.1 per person per year in climate finance, compared to US$161.7 in non-fragile states.

Climate action failure was ranked as the most severe risk in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022. This failure is considered the most severe threat in both the medium term (2-5 years) and long term (5-10 years), further highlighting that this is not a problem of future generations but a current global issue. Environmental risks made up half of the top ten identified risks for the next decade, with extreme weather and biodiversity loss ranked second and third respectively.

Global Priorities for Climate Adaptation Action

1: Prioritize climate action in vulnerable and fragile contexts

More climate finance must be directed to fragile states, as highlighted in the UNDP report, to limit the climate-related risks in areas where they often hit the hardest and are felt most profoundly. The international aid system should stop limiting adaptation investments to development contexts and ensure vulnerable areas receive more than essential humanitarian funding.

2: Channel urgent funding to integrated adaptation programmes at scale

Urgent global action is needed to scale up climate adaptation and protect the most vulnerable. Funding must be more sustained and predictable, allowing humanitarian and development organizations to change lives over the long-term and plan for scale as needs increase. It must be additional to life-saving humanitarian assistance to ensure governments are not forced to choose between saving lives and changing lives. 

3: Strengthen partnerships and innovation at the nexus between humanitarian and climate action

The climate crisis is outpacing the capabilities of governments and the international aid
system to respond to escalating humanitarian needs. Partnerships between humanitarian and development actors must be strengthened, and climate change recognized as both a humanitarian and development issue. Climate action requires integrated approaches which combine nature-based solutions with access to climate and early warning information and financial safety nets.

WFP’s Climate Action

WFP has effective and scalable solutions to help food insecure people prepare for, respond to and recover from climate shocks and stresses. WFP saves lives following climate-related disasters, assisting people in the most remote and challenging locations to cope with climate shocks. At the same time, WFP supports communities to:

  • ANTICIPATE climate hazards before they turn into disasters by using early warning systems to trigger pre-positioned financing for preventative action
  • RESTORE degraded ecosystems that serve as natural shields against climate impacts
  • PROTECT the most vulnerable with safety nets and insurance against climate extremes
  • ENERGIZE schools and communities through access to cleaner cooking methods.

These solutions prioritize climate action in the most vulnerable and fragile contexts, accelerate adaptation solutions at scale and drive innovation at the nexus between humanitarian and development action. They also promote integration, recognizing that protection from climate impacts is most effective when multiple adaptation initiatives are combined.


In 2020, WFP implemented climate risk management solutions in 28 countries, benefiting more than six million people. As an experienced risk-manager with extensive programmatic reach, WFP has the field presence and operational readiness to scale up protection against climate impacts for millions of people.

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