Vol. 10 - No. 1




Learn To Live With Less So That Others Can Continue Living


IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

GENEVA  The impacts of climate change are now nowhere more visible than on the lives of billions of poor farmers around the world. In the last 50 years the world population has more than doubled -- from 3 billion in 1959 to 6.7 billion in 2009.

According to the International Labour Organization, the economically active population in the world grew from 1.89 billion in 1980 to 3.21 billion in 2009. A large majority of this increase has occurred in the developing countries.

While the economically active population in the more developed regions grew from 519 millions in 1980 to 623 million in 2009, the corresponding increase in the less developed regions of Africa, Asia (excluding Japan), Latin America and the Caribbean plus Melanisia, Micronesia and Polynesia was much larger, from 1.38 billion in 1980 to 2.59 billion in 2009. A large majority of the economically active population in the less developed regions is engaged in subsistence agriculture.

Although the production of major cereals (rice, wheat and maize) increased from 643 million tons in 1961 to 2.06 billion tons in 2007, the availability of food for the growing population in the world is quite uneven.

According to FAO, there are 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today, 75 percent of whom are to be found in rural areas where the primary source of livelihood is the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. One person out of six in the world does not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.

Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to the health worldwide -- greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Poverty and overexploitation of the environment rank amongst the major causes for hunger. Almost half the world -- over three billion people -- lives on less than $2.50 a day. Nearly 1.8 billion people in the world who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In comparison, water use in the USA is around 600 litres per day.

According to FAO, 65 percent of the world's hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Climate change is already impacting overall developing efforts in these countries, particularly in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors.

Irregular and unpredictable rainfall patterns; increasing frequency of heavy rainfall; increased incidence of storms and prolonged droughts are impacting food production. While the nature of the impacts is location specific, the adaptive capacity of people and ecosystems determine the extent of damage that is caused.

The situation is dire in many developing regions of the world but most notably in Africa. Per capita grain production in Africa is down 12 percent since 1981 and down 22 percent since 1967. Some 20 years ago, Africa produced food equal to what it consumed; today it produces only 80 percent of what it consumes.

What needs to be done to address the problem?

a) Promote more actively adaptation to climate change in developing countries
b) Change the behavioural patterns to learn to live with less so that others can continue living


All developing countries need to mainstream their efforts for adaptation to climate change into their development planning through emphasis on the following aspects:

- More systematic efforts in the acquisition of information on extreme events and their impacts on agriculture to enable the development of coping strategies to extreme events in agriculture.

- Assisting farmers in coping with current climatic risks, especially through risk transfer mechanisms such as index-based weather risk insurance.

- Advancing knowledge base for adaptation at the national level for the principal crops and cropping systems. According to IPCC (2007), agriculture has the technical potential to mitigate between 1.5-1.6 GtC eqv/yr (5.5 6 Gt of CO2 equivalent/yr) mainly through soil carbon sequestration in developing countries. Systematic efforts at establishing knowledge bases at the national level and applications based on the knowledge base could help advance improved carbon sequestration efforts.

- Assisting in the intensification of food production systems. Food needs of the growing populations could be met only through intensifying agricultural production systems through greater research and extension efforts.

- Enabling institutions and policy support are essential to assist the adaptation efforts to climate change. Farmers in the developing countries need policy support to ensure that they adopt appropriate soil and water management strategies to conserve natural resources and increase and sustain farm productivity.
Establishment of partnerships and capacity enhancement to help promote synergies and enable the adoption of new techniques to enhance crop productivity.


According to World Bank (2010), primary energy use (before transformation to other end-use fuels) in kilograms of oil equivalent, per capita in the world increased from 1,338 kg in 1971 to 1,819 kg in 2007. In poorer countries such as Bangladesh, per capita energy use was only 80 kg in 1971 and it increased to 163 kg in 2007. In contrast, in the United States, energy use per capita was about 5 times more than global average and it increased from 7,645 kg in 1971 to 7,766 kg in 2007.

The weighted average oil consumption at the global level in 2007 was 399,463 bbl/day, with poorer countries such as Bangladesh at 89,940 bbl/day and the United States at 20,680,000 bbl/day. Clearly, the impacts of CO2 emissions related to such levels of oil consumption in more developed countries are translated into higher average temperatures in the developing countries in the semi-arid and arid regions.

According to the World Energy Council (WEC, 2009), the energy policy must be integrated over time, and regionally and globally for some issues such as regional security and climate change. WEC advocates global cooperation between higher and lower income countries and emphasizes that public acceptance of energy policy is essential.

In this connection, the announcement by the United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently in car-dependent America, that bicycle use and walking should be given the same importance as motorised transport in state and local projects. This is a laudable initiative and needs to emulated even in developing countries like China and India with average oil consumption of 7,578,000 bbl/day and 2,722,000 bbl/day.

Clearly we all need to learn to live with less so that others can continue living.

Dr Mannava Sivakumar is the Director of the Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch in the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This is a slightly abridged version of his presentation in the Plenary Session on 'Adaptation and Poverty Reduction: Combined forces or a fight against the current?' at the third Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn on June 23, 2010. 

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