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Climate change action needed to address global poverty

By Lena Aahlby - posted Friday, 29 July 2011

As the debate rages in Australia about the merit of a price on carbon millions of people in East Africa are already suffering the impact of climate change. In the Horn of Africa the countries of Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti are all facing a devastating drought with little but food and water distribution programs standing in the way of starvation. Most people in the region are already poor and living directly off the land. They cannot expect to grow their own food again until, at the earliest, 2012 when the rains may return. Until then, they are completely dependent on aid provisions.

Closer to home CSIRO's Dr Mark Howden projects that by 2050 Australia could become a net importer of fruit, vegetables and wheat. He says that as a result Australia will become less food secure.

Climate scientists have warned us again and again that more extreme weather patterns are to be expected in a world of accelerating climate change. To manage this we need to do two things: drastically reduce our carbon emissions and prepare ourselves for dealing with the climate change that is now unavoidable as a result of past carbon emissions.


Despite the fact that Australians know all too well the impact of extreme weather events such as heavy rains, and long periods of drought, and despite the fact that Australia’s fragile ecosystem is predicted to be heavily impacted by even a small change in the average temperature, little has been done until now to control our steadily increasing carbon emissions. The Australian government has now put forward a proposal that puts a price on carbon and that stimulates investment in clean energy. This is an important first step and the government should be congratulated for this. Those who oppose the proposed carbon tax need to really ask themselves at which point they will accept to take the first step, as imperfect as it may be, to tackle one of the greatest challenges we face.

It is a cruel reality that those who have contributed the least to the problem of climate change will suffer the most. Already close to 1 billion people go to bed hungry every night, and this number is set to increase, as food supply is further impacted by climate change. What we are seeing in East Africa is only the beginning.

As Australia takes the first step to cutting its carbon emissions, we must also direct funds to addressing the impending global food crisis in the most effective way possible. The impacts of climate related disasters such as the one currently unfolding in the Horn of Africa could be reduced by building resilience in communities.

Small-scale farmers produce 90 per cent of food in Africa and around half of all food worldwide. Women account for up to 80 per cent of these farmers. Perversely the majority of people going hungry worldwide are women and girls.

Experts agree that supporting women farmers in the developing world is a proven way to end hunger. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, supporting women farmers to the same level as their male counterparts would reduce the number of hungry in the world by between 100-150 million people. 

By investing in the smallholder woman-led sustainable agriculture over industrial export focussed agriculture world leaders would not only reduce the number of hungry people today, but would also strengthen communities resilience into the future. What’s more, small scale farming is better for the environment than industrial agriculture, so it’s a solution to hunger that is also contributing to the global efforts to combat the worst impacts of climate change.


World leaders are meeting later this year to decide on two important issues: how to tackle the global food crisis and how to manage the climate crisis. Julia Gillard has an opportunity to be a champion on the international stage – advocating for smallholder women farmers and advocating for global action to manage the climate crisis - please make us proud and be that champion Prime Minister.

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About the Author

Lena Aahlby is the Director and Founder of StrategyforChange, a consultancy that works with the not-for-profit sector on strategy development, campaign design, training and capacity building. Lena has extensive experience of working with NGOs both in Australia and internationally, most recently in her capacity as International Programme Director for Greenpeace at the global HQ in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Please see for more.

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