Bishop of Oxford asks Government about links between food security, poor nutrition and climate change

On 28th January 2020 the House of Lords debated a question from Lord Collins of Highbury, asking Government”what consideration they have given to formulating their pledge at the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth 2020 summit, and what they are doing to build commitments from other countries.” The Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, I, too, welcome this timely debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and welcome the opportunity offered by the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit.

It is moving to note, as other noble Lords have mentioned, that the number of people suffering from hunger has been increasing since 2015, albeit slowly. We know that behind the statistics lie terrible and moving stories of human suffering, disease and death, especially across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is sobering to ponder on the one hand the challenge of providing a sustainable diet and preventing the lifelong consequences of malnutrition and, on the other, the striking rise in obesity across the world and consequent health problems.

Seven years ago, the UK Government exercised global leadership through the first Nutrition for Growth conference and have delivered on many of the pledges made there. I support strongly the calls made ​by other noble Lords in this debate for a renewal of that leadership at the Tokyo summit, for a strong United Kingdom delegation and for a generous pledge of £800 million per annum for nutrition between 2021 and 2025.

The Tokyo summit will take place just a few weeks after the key COP 26 in Glasgow, which the UK Government will host and chair. Short-term interventions to combat malnutrition are vital, but the world must also engage, as noble Lords have pointed out, with the long-term multiple linkages between poor nutrition and climate change.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on the four pillars of food security: availability, access, usage and stability. The climate emergency means that the world needs to increase spending on nutrition adaption and mitigation just to see the statistics stand still.

We see across the world the impact of extreme weather-related disasters, which have more than doubled in number since 1990. More than 70% of agriculture is rain-fed. This directly affects the ability of drought-affected countries to grow their own food, as we see currently in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. Agricultural land will be lost to rising sea levels, fires and flooding.

Two years ago, I was privileged to visit one of our linked dioceses, Kimberley and Kuruman, in South Africa. It was excellent to hear reports of local feeding programmes to combat malnutrition, some supported directly by parishes in the Oxford diocese. However, those signs of hope were set against a background and a deeper narrative of concern about the climate and poor harvests.

There is increasing evidence that high ambient carbon dioxide in the atmosphere decreases the nutritional quality of important food crops, including wheat, rice and maize, affecting the entire world. The science suggests lower yields of micronutrients: protein, iron and zinc decrease as CO2 in the atmosphere increases. The changes in the climate affect agriculture. This in turn affects livelihoods, all too commonly leading to malnutrition and mass migration for a more sustainable future. There is a vicious circle here which can be broken only through a sustained global determination and action to address the climate emergency.

We have a moral imperative to love our neighbours as ourselves and to feed the hungry. We own now a moral imperative as the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution, who have gained most from fossil fuels, to lead on the fight against climate change. In this context, what consideration have the Government given to the linkage between our leadership of the COP 26 conference and the pledges we will make at the Tokyo summit in December? Will the Government continue to focus our interventions in the areas of most extreme poverty and climate change?


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