Food security and climate change

The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition


This report examines the impact of climate change on food security. It argues that climate change will have detrimental impacts on food security and agricultural systems:  reducing the productivity of existing food systems; harming the livelihoods of those already vulnerable to food insecurity; and increasing the challenges of providing clean water. It offers a number of recommendations to mitigate and prepare for these future challenges.

High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) report is based on a review of existing evidence, at the request of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The HLPE, established in 2010 during the CFS reform, aims to provide policy-oriented analysis and advice to guide CFS’s policy formulation work.

Climate change will have an impact on domestic prices and livelihoods once products enter international markets leading to food insecurity. It will also place multiple stresses on many agricultural and aquatic systems, although the result of these combined stresses is unknown.

A social vulnerability lens is essential to understand why certain individuals, households, or communities experience differences in food insecurity risks. Pre-existing conditions of vulnerability make poor people even more exposed to risks of climate change. Adapting food systems requires complex social, economic and biophysical adjustments to food production, processing and consumption. Many of the poorest countries and the poorest and most vulnerable populations, often found in tropical regions, will be least able to adapt and face the most severe effects.

Strategies for community-based adaptation requires cooperation from government, private sector and civil society to support farmers and food producers and their communities.

Agriculture is an important driver of climate change – crop production and livestock accounts for about 15% of emissions. Land use change, driven by expansion of agricultural area, adds another 15 – 17%. Future income and population growth will increase agricultural emissions unless low-emissions growth strategies for agriculture are identified.

There is urgent need for a better assessment of various farming systems that accounts for direct and indirect emissions. The proportion of livestock products in a diet is a key driver of GHG emissions. While slowing global consumption of livestock products slows emissions, many livelihoods depend on livestock and, particularly in developing countries, high quality protein (milk, meat, eggs) improves nutrition.

Policy recommendations fall under six broad categories:

  • Integrating climate change policies and programmes  into those of sustainable food security. This should include leveraging local knowledge, increasing investments, and enhancing public research for adaptation.
  • Increasing resilience of food systems – while also involving range of relevant stakeholders (e.g. government, private sector, civil society, farmers, the financial sector). Climate change adaptation must account for disadvantaged groups, gender differences and local circumstances. Diversifying production systems, exchanging good practices, and prioritising the National Adaptation Programes of Action (NAPAs) are advised.
  • Developing and adopting low-emission agricultural strategies that have synergies with food security. For example, reduced land-use change, soil degradation and social carbon-loss practices, and promoting ‘responsible consumption’.
  • Broadening research to include sharing local lessons, promoting systematic data collection, monitoring interventions and global coordination.
  • Facilitating participatory decision-making and implementation.
  • Specifically, the CFS should incorporate climate change in their Global strategic framework for food security and nutrition,  promote greater integration integrating food security in UNFCC activities and international trade negotiations, and also create a global data sharing mechanism.


HLPE. (2012). Food security and climate change. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security. HLPE Report 3. Rome, Italy: The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.