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Tackling the Impact of Climate Change on Nutrition and Food Systems

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This week sees climate change at the forefront of both the news and political agendas, with leaders from across the world coming together to find solutions at #COP27. It’s taking place at a time when not only climate change, but intensifying global Conflict and the fall out of the Covid-19 pandemic have combined to create a global malnutrition crisis – with 50 million people worldwide teetering on the edge of famine.

Over 60 million children under five are experiencing the worst and most life-threatening form of malnutrition – child wasting, defined as low weight for height. Children across the Horn of Africa are on the edge of one of the worst famines in 40 years. 1.7 million face severe acute malnutrition (SAM), where they’re so ill they can’t even eat the food they so vitally need. Millions of children in Somalia, Sudan, and beyond in the region are living through this unprecedented global hunger and malnutrition crisis, the likes of which have no place in the 21st century when the food supply and treatment is available – it’s just not equally shared. It’s not just lives being lost, childhood stunting costs the private sector in LMICs more than a quarter of a trillion dollars a year – a stunted workforce ultimately leads to stunted economies.

For too long, nutrition has been an ‘orphan’ sector, with funding prioritised for other causes. Not only though is nutrition foundational to the wider Sustainable Development Goals, its link (alongside with food) with climate change is undeniable.

  • Food systems are responsible for 33% of global greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural expansion accounts for almost 90% of global deforestation
  • More than 40% of global calories come from just three crops – rice, wheat and maize – which, along with sugar cane, represent about half of global primary crop production
  • This level of staple crop production results in the cheapest and more accessible calories also being the worst for human health. When further exacerbated by seasonal price fluctuations which are 2 – 3 times higher in Africa than in international markets, the consequence is that 3.1 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet
  • As a result, the burden of undernutrition due to lack of access to key micronutrients is staggeringly high: new findings estimate that 1 in 2 children and 2 in 3 women worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies

So the links are clear: climate change impacts food availability, its costs, overall calorie consumption, as well as the quality of foods consumed. It impacts all aspects of the food supply chain from farm to fork, including agricultural yields and nutritional quality of crops. And it’s not a one-way link, the current food system is a major contributor to climate change too.

Yet integration of food systems into the climate agenda has often focused on agriculture, ignoring nutrition. It’s not enough to consider the production, we must also ensure the food is healthy and affordable.

The ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) provides a unique opportunity for Nutrition stakeholders and advocates to team up with climate advocates behind the common goal of increasing access to sustainable diets that are healthy for people and the planet. By transforming food systems, we could save US$5.7 trillion a year and generate $4.5 trillion annually in new economic opportunities—more than 15 times the annual $350 billion of investment needed to implement the transformation.

Less hot air, we need action:

  • World leaders need to be more proactive to respond to the multiple crises (3Cs) playing out right now – continuing to ignore nutrition and food systems at this stage is no longer an option.
  • We need to transition to more resilient food systems by promoting Climate Smart Agricultural practices to improve food availability and effectively reduce CO2 emissions.
  • To ensure the climate crisis does not become a humanitarian crisis, we must strengthen safety nets for the treatment and prevention of climate-related malnutrition
  • There needs to be more coordinated multisectoral collaboration through strategic engagement of the private sector towards increasing and unlocking greater levels of longer-term development funding that will increase the fiscal space of high-burden countries to allocate domestic budgets for wasting prevention and treatment.

If you’d like to know more about the links between climate and nutrition, or are interested in a partnership with The Power of Nutrition to demonstrate your leadership credentials in support the UN’s SDG’s, please get in touch with Chris Grayson –

Read more about climate change and nutrition

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How a new plant-based recipe could transform the benefits of malnutrition treatment – for people and planet


RUTF stands for Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food – it’s an energy dense paste, made using peanuts, sugar, milk powder, oil, vitamins, and minerals and is used to treat children suffering from severe cases of malnutrition.

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The Clock is Ticking


The clock is ticking. The world stands at a critical juncture in the fight against climate change. The food we eat not only contributes to climate change, but if urgent action is not taken