Coal-fired power plant in Germany

UN warns of climate-induced hunger by 2050, as Germany continues to struggle with coal

At the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, a report from the World Food Programme has warned of a potential 20 per cent increase in hunger and child malnutrition by 2050 if climate change threats are not tackled more effectively.

Climate change is leading to severe droughts in some areas and rising sea levels in others, leading to flooding, which poses a serious risk to human habitation around the world.

The World Food Programme (WFP) report advises that risk assessments specific to each region be conducted to better understand the challenges and come up with appropriate solutions.   

For example, in North Africa, farmers are facing more frequent and more intense heatwaves, coupled with declining water availability, whereas in South Asia the farmers are threatened by worsening floods and cyclones, as well as longer-term threats to the stability of monsoon cycles and the annual water flow from glacier-fed rivers.

“Different groups are affected by different types of risks, at different intensities and at different times,” said Gernot Laganda, director of climate and disaster risk reduction programmes at WFP.

Building greater resilience to the threats will require “layers” of responses, he said. While catastrophic threats inducing large-scale losses of crops or animals might be dealt with by insurance plans, the increasingly regular seasonal threats can't be insured against, as the problems are too frequent.

The WFP report aims to give governments and food security organisations a clearer picture of the challenges faced. It has a particular focus on regions under serious pressure, such as Africa and Asia. Areas can also have their own unique challenges that aggravate the climate issues, such as political conflicts in Africa that cause new shortages of food and a consequent rise in hunger levels.

“We are not going to achieve zero hunger by 2030 if we do not factor climate-related shocks and stresses into our equation,” Laganda said. “Climate needs to factor into food security discussions at a country level in a much bigger form than it does now.”

Meanwhile, with global climate talks being held in her home country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come under renewed pressure to commit to ending Germany’s use of coal-fired power.

Despite her renowned commitment to the global effort to curb climate change, Merkel thus far has refused to set a deadline to phase out coal, despite fresh calls to do so from green groups and developing countries. Merkel has acknowledged that Germany’s reliance on burning coal to generate electricity is one reason it is not on track to cut its carbon emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

Germany currently generates about 40 per cent of its electricity from coal, including the light-brown variety called lignite that is considered to be one of the most heavily-polluting fossil fuels.

“Now, at the end of 2017, we know that we're still missing a big chunk,” Merkel said. “Coal, especially lignite, must contribute a significant part to achieving these goals. What exactly that will be is something we will discuss very precisely in the coming days.”

Speaking to leaders and ministers from around the world, she said there will be “hard discussions” on the issue in her upcoming talks with the Green party and the pro-business Free Democrats on forming a new government.

Merkel has a long-running fractious relationship with coal in Germany. Her coalition with the Green Party increasingly hinges on closing more coal plants, yet Germany’s reliance on coal continues. The increasingly thorny issue of coal-fired power plants followed Merkel’s landmark announcement in 2011 that Germany would abandon nuclear power completely by 2022.

“Angela Merkel has missed her chance to show her leadership qualities on climate change,” said Mohamed Adow of the charity Christian Aid.

“A UN climate summit on home soil was the perfect place to bury coal and set the date that Germany would phase out the dirtiest fossil fuel.”

Speaking immediately after her at the talks, French President Emmanuel Macron said his country was committed to ending the use of coal by 2021. The task is made a lot easier for France by the fact the country hardly has any coal-fired plants and still gets most of its electricity from nuclear power.

Several other countries, including Britain, Canada and Italy, have also announced they will stop using coal in the coming years.

The talks in Bonn have largely centred on hammering out the precise rules for implementing the Paris climate accord.

The 2015 agreement was seen as a political landmark because a firm target was set for countries to try to keep global warming below 2°C.

But achieving this goal has been made harder by Donald Trump's rejection of the Paris accord and threat to withdraw the US in 2020 unless it is renegotiated.

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