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UCL events news and reviews


The planet won’t be habitable in five years if we see five degree warming

By news editor, on 21 February 2013

pencil-iconWritten by Helen Fry, Research Assistant, UCL Institute for Global Health

1“The planet won’t be habitable in five years if we see a five degree increase in average temperatures,” warned Professor Sir John Beddington at the opening of UCL’s Global Food Security Symposium.

Sir John, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, outlined two critical global challenges: a population that will increase to 9 billion by 2043, and temperature changes that leave us at an ever higher risk of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts.

These issues exist on top of current food, water and energy insecurity: hundreds of millions go hungry, lack access to safe water and do not have enough electricity.

Will countries stop emitting carbon? Sir John doesn’t think so. Fuels such as shale oil and gas in the United States have too significant an impact on their economy. Instead, apologising for his negative outlook on the prospects of climate change, he turned to solutions in addressing food security, identifying climate smart technology and sustainable agriculture as two important tools.

Sir John’s talk was followed by a panel debate with Professor Mark Maslin (UCL Geography), Dr Sidip Mitra (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India) and Professor Richard Kock (Royal Veterinary College). Highlights included Professor Maslin describing Gross Domestic Product as an “awful measure of a country” and Professor Kock warning that vegetarianism as the solution to climate change is “fraught with false premise”.


Is conservation agriculture the solution to food insecurity?

By Moz Siddiqui, MSc Student

2Successive international responses on climate change have failed to tackle the serious challenges that face us all, argued Professor Amir Kassam (University of Reading) in his passionate and comprehensive talk on conversation agriculture (CA).

CA is a return to more traditional methods of farming – minimal mechanical interference, promotion of biodiversity and the enhancement of organic content and soil cover.

The simplicity and logic of CA, which is being adopted by large economies such as Brazil, is undeniable – no matter how sophisticated the machinery and seed technology, poor soil will yield poor crop results.  Adopting it shifts the focus to the creation of a strong and reliable foundation for crop production through effective soil management. What is clear is that convergence of food security and environmental impact of agricultural practices is putting CA on the agenda, providing guidance on intelligent use of limited resources.

Professor Kassam concluded by saying that there is no need to wait for political responses, which thus far have been a failure.  By adopting CA, small and medium scale farmers will grow in confidence and eventually become drivers of further solutions.


“Environmental challenges in the global South: what are the solutions?”

By Bryony Langdon, MSc Student

3How does climate change affect different regions of the world?

Professor Georgina Mace (UCL Centre for Biodiversity and Environmental Research) focused on the environmental challenges facing the southern hemisphere.

It can be easy to forget that the world is not homogenous. The areas that contribute most to climate change and the places most affected by climate changes are markedly different, especially with respect to development levels.

She suggested a number of direct responses that could be undertaken to mitigate environmental challenges in the southern hemisphere: eliminating damaging trade barriers and subsidies, promoting sustainable agriculture, investment in technologies to increase efficiency of use of ecosystem services and natural capital accounting are all feasible responses, but Professor Mace warned that there are still gaps in knowledge and information, including uncertainty surrounding the severity of climate change and when and where it will cause the most disruption.

Finally, she stressed the huge role for new technologies and opportunities to use citizen science, which focuses on citizens conducting research for interventions, rather than the traditional top-down approach to mitigation.


Changing the current climate: what next for global food security and climate change?

By Vineela Nallapuneni, MSc Student

4The director of the World Development Movement, Deborah Doane, kicked off the final segment of the conference, jolting her listeners awake with statistics on the current climate of food availability and production – we live in a world where 1.3 billion people are not getting enough to eat.

The biggest challenge to global food security, according to Doane, is the corporate-led agricultural industry, where large monopolies dominate 90% of the food system, with declining biodiversity. Earth has an abundance of food but it is either not reaching the poor or prices are too volatile – the price of maize, for example, rose by 180% between 2007 and 2008. This, Doane argues, impacts women first because girls are the first to be taken out of education when things get  tight.

Despite all this, Doane did offer a rare note of optimism to the symposium, saying that she is still hopeful that we can feed the world, mitigate climate change and alleviate poverty through good governance on food security and food sovereignty.

Professor Costello, Director of the Institute for Global Health, brought the conference to an end. He discussed the key links between the environment, food and health. He urged everyone to not look at these issues in despair, but as opportunities to be managed. “Everyone has a role to play,” he concluded.

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