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  • Clare Oxborrow, Friends of the Earth

  • Kiri Hanks, Food and climate justice lead, Oxfam

Date: 20th June 2019


Climate change is affecting food systems across the world and impacting what we eat. Our collective efforts to slow or halt climate change will also require us to change our diets.

Climate change disproportionately affects the world’s poorest people, especially vulnerable smallholder farmers in the developing world, who rely on rain. They are already seeing the impacts of one degree warming – global hunger has risen for three years in a row as rainfall becomes erratic and harvests fail. This is a foretaste of what is in store for all of us if we don’t cut carbon emissions.

There is increasing inequality in the global agri-food industry, as profits and power are concentrated at the top of the supply chain (e.g. agricultural conglomerates, supermarkets and corporate food giants), whilst squeezing those at the bottom. Most of the people who produce our food – farm and factory workers, packers and drivers, supermarket operatives – struggle to adequately feed their families. It’s a terrible irony that climate change is made worse by the unsustainable practices of these conglomerates, and that food shortages driven by climate change make it even harder for food workers to afford healthy and nutritious food.

We need to design resilience into our food systems to weather climate change and ultimately reverse it. Smallholder farmers in the Global South are already changing what they grow, diversifying risk, bringing back the rich diversity of indigenous crops better suited to local conditions.

They’re also changing how they grow, adopting agroecological principles that reduce or remove the need for chemical inputs, manage water and preserve soil health. These strategies must be supported by international climate finance.

We need to build a movement that demands a net zero positive food system. We must reject the label of ‘consumer,’ whose power lies only in our wallets. When we call ourselves citizens instead, we’re active participants in the food system.

Practical steps to build this movement include holding governments and businesses to account for their worker, animal welfare, climate and environment policies, and – crucially – for cutting emissions. We must use our knowledge to counter the arguments of the entrenched industrial food system. As individuals we can choose to eat more seasonal fruit and veg, more pulses and less but better meat that’s farmed for climate, health and nature.

Note: Key questions to ask and/ or top tips

Further reading:

Food citizenship.


Clare Oxborrow | Friends of the Earth

Clare is a Friends of the Earth campaigner, working in the Policy and Insight Unit. She’s particularly passionate about land and food sustainability.

Kiri Hanks | Climate Policy Advisor at the Elders

Kiri is currently a Climate Policy Advisor at the Elders Foundation and has over six years of experience working in Oxfam in various policy advisory positions including southern African food and climate justice.