Anger over soaring food prices was a major factor in the Egyptian uprising and the United Nations’ top climate official warned this week that without action on climate change, more governments will fall and the danger of military conflict will grow.
Christiana Figueres told a top-level meeting of defence chiefs and strategists in Spain that climate change-driven drought, falling crop yields and competition for water were fuelling conflict and without aggressive action to reduce emissions causing global warming they would increase.
“It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilise climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water,” said Ms Figueres. “In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation – the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.”
She added: “All these factors taken together mean that climate change, especially if left unabated, threatens to increase poverty and overwhelm the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their people, which could well contribute to the emergence, spread and longevity of conflict.”
The world’s food supply is already increasingly fragile, as a result of extreme weather events affecting crop yields. In January world prices rose for the seventh successive month, up 3.4% from December, to the highest level since the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) began measurements in 1990.
And more increases are on the way. The FAO issued a special alert this week that provinces of northern China, the country’s main wheat producing area, are suffering a drought that could destroy up to one third of the summer wheat crop. The absence of snow cover and ferociously low temperatures, means dormant wheat will be killed by frost. Not only crops but 2.57 million people and 3 million livestock animals are affected by a shortage of drinking water.
The weather is the same in the US Great Plains and Midwest. Kansas and Oklahoma have had has less than half of normal rainfall in January and there is intense cold. China is the world’s biggest wheat producer but also its biggest consumer. If China starts buying wheat in the world market prices will be pushed even higher.
FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian warned: "High food prices are of major concern especially for low-income food deficit countries that may face problems in financing food imports and for poor households which spend a large share of their income on food."
But for capitalist agri-business, including companies whose activities are financed by Chinese and Saudi sovereign wealth funds and by investment funds launched by the likes of Goldman Sachs, high food prices are good news.
Delegates attending the World Social Forum at Dakar in Senegal, cheered wildly at news of the fall of Mubarak. The global land grab was their main focus with representatives of peasant and worker movements from across the world reporting on their struggle to hold on to land and livelihoods.
Veteran food campaigner Susan George highlighted the situation in Europe, where unemployment is rising along with food price inflation. Europeans, she said, are beginning to learn what it is to live with an IMF structural adjustment programme.
Of course whilst UN may find toppling governments a terrifying prospect, the majority of the world’s people would be delighted to get rid of rulers whose ruthless support for the financial system overwhelms any concern for their populations.
People know the priority is neither climate change nor hunger, but kick-starting growth and restoring profitability. The market in food offers one of the best opportunities to do that, since the onset of the global economic crisis. The price of restarting the global capitalist economy by expanding the globalisation of land and farming will be hunger affecting more and more of the world’s population. So help work out alternatives at our “Beyond Resistance” teach-in Kicking capitalism's growth habit - building a sustainable economy on February 26.