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Climate’s Impact on Nutrition: What you need to know

As climate change alters ecosystems with adverse consequences for food systems and vulnerable communities in particular, decades of progress in reducing global levels of malnutrition stand to be lost. Nutrition challenges, already exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, faced by millions of mothers and their children are likely to only further deepen.

Science is shedding light on the pathways through which climate change will influence our planetary health and food systems. As weather patterns shift, experts warn of rising hunger, negative impacts on agricultural crop yields and their micronutrient contents as well as simply the availability of diverse nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.

Ironically, the foods we are producing are responsible for a third of the global greenhouse emissions (GHG), making our dietary choices even more important not only for our health but for planetary health too. Sustainable solutions to improve food systems and deliver micronutrient-rich foods to those who need them most are available. Micronutrient solutions including large-scale food fortification and biofortification are proven solutions that are low-cost and climate-friendly.

From October 31 through November 12, over 20,000 global leaders and climate-change experts gather virtually and in Glasgow for the COP26 summit and work to accelerate and inspire action to reduce climate change. A key event during COP26 on November 9, Climate Action for Health, will bring together leaders from government, the health sector, and climate change to set out the health arguments for ambitious global action on climate change. Learn more about the intersection of climate change and nutrition in this curated list of resources.

10 Resources to Better Understand the Relationship between Global Climate Change and Nutrition:

 

  1. Climate Crisis and Malnutrition – A case for acting now – World Health Organization
    Climate change is a long-term threat to food security and nutrition. By 2050, the risk of hunger and malnutrition could rise by 20 percent if the global community fails to act now to mitigate and prevent the adverse effects of climate change. The majority of child deaths expected to occur as a result of climate change will be driven by undernutrition. Find the Climate Fast Fact series and more here .
  2. The Potential Impact of Climate Change on the Micronutrient-Rich Food Supply
    Micronutrient deficiencies are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in low- and middle-income countries worldwide. Climate change, characterized by increasing global surface temperatures and alterations in rainfall, has the capacity to affect the quality and accessibility of micronutrient-rich foods. The goals of this review are to summarize the potential effects of climate change and its consequences on agricultural yield and micronutrient quality, primarily zinc, iron, and vitamin A, of plant foods and upon the availability of animal foods, to discuss the implications for micronutrient deficiencies in the future, and to present possible mitigation and adaptive strategies. Read the full article here.
  3. Can Fixing Dinner Fix the Planet?
    Jessica Fanzo explores the interactions among food systems, diets, human health, and the climate crisis. Drawing upon her decades of hands-on research projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, Fanzo describes how food systems must evolve to promote healthy, sustainable, and equitable diets. By sharing new ideas and successful examples of programs and policies, she offers hope that there are ways forward and describes the individual and systemic changes that we all must make to slow and ultimately reverse catastrophic trends. More details here.
  4. The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission Report
    Published January 27 2019. A holistic effort to reorient human systems to achieve better human and planetary health is our most important and urgent challenge. This Commission following on from two Lancet Series on obesity looks at obesity in a much wider context of common underlying societal and political drivers for malnutrition in all its forms and climate change. Read the full report here.
  5. The effect of climate change across food systems: Implications for nutrition outcomes (Sept 2018)
    A better understanding of the pathways linking climate change and nutrition is critical for developing effective interventions to ensure the world’s population has access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food. The paper uses a food systems approach to analyze the bidirectional relationships between climate change and food and nutrition along the entire food supply chain. It identifies adaptation and mitigation interventions for each step of the food supply chain to move toward a more climate-smart, nutrition-sensitive food system. There are many entry points for “double duty” actions that address climate adaptation and nutrition but they need to be implemented and scaled by governments. Read more here 
  6. The 2021 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: code red for a healthy future
    Published October 20, 2021. The Lancet Countdown is an international collaboration that independently monitors the health consequences of a changing climate. The 44 indicators of this report expose an unabated rise in the health impacts of climate change and the current health consequences of the delayed and inconsistent response around the globe – providing a clear imperative for accelerated action that puts the health of people and planet above all else. Dive into the full report here.
  7. Budgeting for Climate Change: A Guidance Note for Governments to Integrate Climate Change into Budgeting | United Nations Development Programme
    This Guidance Note draws on the experiences in climate budgeting that emerge from Asia-Pacific countries and captures emerging global trends with adopted principles and steps involved. Read more here.
  8. The Food Systems Dashboard is a new tool to inform better food policy
    The Food Systems Dashboard is a new tool that aims to describe global, regional and national food systems; to assess the challenges for improving diets, nutrition and health; and to guide its users to set priorities and decide on actions. The need for this tool was identified by Jess Fanzo at Johns Hopkins University and Lawrence Haddad at The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) in 2018 when working on the team that wrote the UN High Level Panel of Experts on Food Systems and Nutrition report. Read more here.
  9. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health – EAT Knowledge
    The EAT-Lancet Commission delivered a scientific review of what constitutes a healthy diet from a sustainable food system. Find out more here.
  10. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems
    Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both. Providing a growing global population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge. Although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume low-quality diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in the incidence of diet-related obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined. Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed. Read more here.

BONUS RESOURCES

CONNECTED Conference:

All material on the Micronutrient Forum CONNECTED Conference is open access and available for all. Please create an account to access the material if you have not done so already.  Interested in learning more about the conference? Read the proceedings by Sight and Life here.

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