Politics of Poverty

Climate change requires more than future commitments – It requires action, now.

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Asiya Amae picks coffee beans in her field in Wahil in Dire Dawa in Eastern Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers, and due to successive poor rains this year is currently facing a major drought, leaving 4.5 million people without their livelihoods and in in dire need of food aid. Photo: Eva-Lotta Jansson/Oxfam America

As the effects of climate change become increasingly severe, business success will hinge on the ability of companies to dramatically reduce their emissions while actively anticipating and investing in the adaptation needs of communities.

Gilda Charles is a Policy Advisor on Rural Resilience and Markets at Oxfam America.

In the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference, many business voices have joined the global chorus calling for a robust outcome in Paris.  In addition to advocating for a strong climate agreement, a range of companies, including many of the Behind the Brands companies in the food and beverage sector, have committed to “walk the talk” by taking measures to reduce their carbon emissions.  These are all very welcome developments, and point to a growing private sector momentum around the transition towards a low-carbon future.

But here’s the thing: for millions of people around the world, climate change isn’t something that’s going to be a problem in the future, it’s wreaking havoc on their lives already.

As crucial as emissions reductions are to mitigating the future impacts of climate change and avoiding the most catastrophic scenario, there’s a lot we can and should be doing now to lighten the burden on vulnerable communities.  Millions of people in developing countries—who are dependent upon agriculture—face hunger and poverty this year and next, as droughts and erratic rains decimate entire fields, global temperatures reach new records, and El Niño brings increasingly severe storms to many shores.

In many cases, the most vulnerable people around the world are also the small scale farmers who produce key agricultural products for leading global companies. Ethiopia, for example, is one of the world’s largest coffee producers, and due to successive poor rains this year is currently facing a major drought, leaving 4.5 million people without their livelihoods and in in dire need of food aid.

And while the situation in places like Ethiopia is unquestionably more serious, some of the largest global industries are also feeling the effects of climate change in the here and now. Just weeks before the holiday season, Libby’s Pumpkin—which supplies more than 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin—anticipated that their annual pumpkin yields will be reduced by half due to an unusually rainy late spring and early summer.

In the face of such serious realities, it is incredibly important that companies – especially in the food and beverage sector – meet their future-focused mitigation commitments with equally robust initiatives to address the current risks to their supply chains by supporting the resilience of the communities they depend on for raw materials.

This may sound like too tall an order, but it’s not unprecedented. The coffee sector provides yet another example:

Keurig Green Mountain (formerly Green Mountain Coffee Roasters) has taken concrete steps to minimize climate risks in its supply chain while also enabling communities to thrive and remain resilient under changing climactic conditions.  Keurig Green Mountain’s holistic approach to tackling climate change consists of taking measurable steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously

  • Providing training to farmers to improve yields, optimize water use, diversify crops and adjust to changing local weather conditions;
  • Investing in research to develop varieties of coffee plants that are better suited for changing climate and weather conditions;
  • Integrating climate change adaptation into ongoing efforts to improve livelihoods within farming communities.

Keurig Green Mountain’s example demonstrates that it is, in fact, possible for businesses to make changes to their current practices now, that will not only support the ability of vulnerable communities to adapt, but will also protect their future success.

Companies would be wise to follow in Keurig Green Mountain’s footsteps, and could being by:

  1. Establishing a comprehensive adaptation strategy which includes an assessment of current and future risks under different climate change scenarios, including the risks for small scale farmers;
  2. Setting clear, measurable, and time-bound targets for the sustainable management of water and other natural resources in direct operations and across their value chain;
  3. Improving agricultural practices, diversifying agricultural livelihoods, supporting knowledge and experience sharing, and using innovative financial tools to help communities manage increasing-climate related disasters and develop resilient sustainable agriculture models
  4. Advocating for scaling-up finance for adaptation for the most vulnerable communities; and
  5. Paying farmers fairly for their goods so they’re able to earn living incomes.

Of course, while these five actions offer a great place to start, investments in adaptation will require more than a top-down fix—as no one solution or approach will work for everyone. Local actors, who already have the indigenous knowledge necessary to build resilience, must be at the center of designing and implementing effective adaptation strategies.

Whatever companies decide to do, one thing is clear: as the effects of climate change become increasingly severe, business success will ultimately hinge on the ability of companies to dramatically reduce their emissions while actively anticipating and investing in the adaptation needs of communities, now.

Let’s get to work.

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