Food Security, the City of Toronto and International Climate Change Negotiations

Written by: Lena Phillips

The broad nature of climate change discussions (such as the ones currently underway in Cancun) encompass a seemingly endless number of issues and challenges. Food security is without a doubt an issue that has emerged on a variety of fronts including water scarcity, poverty alleviation, agriculture, land-use planning and cash crops (to name a few). Food security refers to the accessibility of food, and food sovereignty goes further by stating that people have the right to determine their own food without the influence of market forces. Notably, developing world populations disproportionately bear the burdens of poverty and malnutrition. However, developed nations also have a responsibility to address food security issues in their own communities. Expansion of the gap between rich and poor is increasing in the developed world (particularly in countries like Canada) and this trend towards greater economic disparity will directly affect many Canadians’ access to food. Within the context of my discussion about Toronto, food security applies more directly however, the concept of food sovereignty can also be applied to the topic.

From a numbers perspective, tens to hundreds of thousands of people in the city depend on charitable food systems. These systems have been part of the city’s socioeconomic landscape for up to two decades and are functioning at capacity. Notably, the capacity of many non-profit and charitable organizations are hindered by their dependence on donations and volunteers (which are often unreliable factors). Health indicators state that 20% of healthcare expenditure in the province of Ontario is traced back to inadequate diets. Toronto contributes to a significant portion of that problem. Notably, those living in large urban areas are most at risk of being adversely affected through food security, and Toronto is amongst the largest cities in North America. Despite efforts from both government and civil society, poverty as it relates to food access and hunger is not diminishing in Toronto.

So how does this all relate back to international climate change negotiations? Well, climate change is already having drastic effects on agricultural practices and systems. Food crops are failing and exotic pest species that target agriculture are emerging around the world; this is just to name a few of the immediate effects. In other words, primary food sources are being compromised on a global scale. Rural communities and cities both in the developed and developing world will further face the dangers of food security if climate change is not addressed at the international level. As food systems continue to fail and people continue to lose access to or the ability to control their food supplies, the international community’s ability to address any global issue (climate or otherwise) will be severely hindered.

Food is such an important part of community identity. My hope is that the urgency of the food security issue stands as yet another strong motivating factor for decision-makers to reach a strong, fair and binding international agreement that ambitiously sets mitigation and adaptation goals to address the effects of climate change.

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