The current UN Climate Conference, which is being held in Lima, Peru, highlights the enormous challenges facing humanity over the next century as a result of climate change. The conference, which includes representatives from 195 countries, builds on the latest climate change research brought together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC). Indeed the IPCC's Fifth Assessment, published earlier this year, specifically addressed climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, highlighting some of the most important challenges we will face over the coming years. And perhaps the most urgent of these – for higher and lower income countries alike – is food security.
As the report suggests, the challenge of feeding a growing global population, in the context of a rapidly changing and increasingly unstable climate, is daunting (see the map of projected food yield from the World Recourses Institute below).
However, it may also present us with some exciting opportunities to reshape and re-evaluate how we produce and consume our food. Currently, like many other countries, we import large quantities of food from overseas. In 2012 less than two thirds of the food we ate was produced in the UK – and in countries like Japan the situation is even more extreme, with more than 60% of all calories consumed coming from imports.
Although our food certainly has to be produced somewhere, there is no doubt that the complex web of international trade which characterises our current food supply makes us more vulnerable to the shocks in yield and price that a changing climate will inevitably bring.
Therefore, as the IPCC report suggests, we must adapt. And one of the most effective ways we can do this is by re-localising our food supply, producing more of the things we need here at home and relying less on imports from across the seas.
But just how much food could we possibly produce, particularly here in the High Weald?
Fortunately, a report commissioned by the High Weald AONB Unit addresses precisely this question, investigating the extent to which our region can supply the food needs of its resident population.
And although the High Weald currently doesn't come close to being self-sufficient in its local food supply, it has the potential to be – particularly if land used to produce surplus was redirected to areas of shortage, such as beef and potatoes. The report's findings reveal that not only is the High Weald perfectly capable of meeting its food needs under conventional production methods, but that it would be equally able to do so using a totally organic approach.
These findings are encouraging, particularly in light of the growing threat that climate change poses to our food security. They highlight the capacity of the High Weald's landscape to provide us with many of the things we need to live healthily, happy and sustainable lives. And what's more, they also offer an exciting glimpse of a future in which we help create and sustain vibrant and productive rural communities – communities in which local farmers and producers are an integral part. So if the current UN Climate Conference has made you a little more anxious about our uncertain future, perhaps this report and its findings will inspire you to see how our landscape can be an important part of the solution.
Download the report: