Climate symposium addresses global food security and biodiversity

This story was originally published in the Nov. 20 issue of Fourth Estate.

Mason hosted more than 170 international experts for a symposium on weather and climate extremes throughout the week of Oct. 20-24.

The International symposium on Weather and Climate Extremes, Food Security and Biodiversity, sponsored by Mason, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, took feedback from experts from around the world in order to “gather information on the best practices to cope with the increasing frequency and magnitude of weather and climate extremes, promote food security and conserve biodiversity.”

These experts worked together to discuss and analyze the complex challenges associated around these problems with the intent to develop a coordinated list of recommendations for future implementation on issues surrounding global food security and healthy ecosystems.

Mason professor John Qu served as a General Chair of the symposium. Qu works in the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science and is director of the Global Environment and Natural Resources Institute.

“[The symposium] brought together experts from governments, United Nations agencies, universities and major research organizations in the United States and 15 countries around the world,” Qu said.

According to the WMO, “weather and climate extremes have significant impacts on agricultural production in the major breadbaskets of the world. Crop failures lead to increased food prices, with significant implications for national economies.”

Throughout the four days, participants took part in breakout sessions to encourage as much conversation as possible around the important issues. Topics covered include areas such as sustainability of natural resources, conservation of ecosystems, challenges and opportunities for sustainable food and the utilization of space technology to monitor weather and climate extremes.

Following the symposium, they released a report detailing 25 comprehensive recommendations for future action on weather and climate extremes, food security and biodiversity.

The report specified that “the agriculture sector must produce more food for a growing world population, which is expected to increase from 7 billion to about 9 billion by 2050.”

“Comprehensive planning to reduce the economic and ecological impacts of extreme events as well as adoption of technologies for improved land and water management to enhance water efficiency in agriculture is needed,” reads the report. “Potential approaches to success include knowledge sharing and cultivation of critical thinking, the promotion of effective tools and technologies, and proper understanding of user priorities and needs.”

Some of the proposals include building better observation networks in developed countries, coordinating action across different regions and continents, devising cost-effective data reporting networks and increased investment in technologies helpful to recording weather and climate data.

The report is their way of pushing for internationally coordinated action to prevent against the risks of weather and climate extremes. According to the report, “the increasing frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, and heat waves pose potentially disastrous consequences for agriculture and food security, especially in the rain-fed areas of developing countries.”

“Climate variability and climate change are impacting agriculture and global food security in every part of the world,” the report indicated. “Agriculture should recognize the importance of biodiversity and ecosystems for its own sustainability and must find ways to protect them. Biodiversity is the source of crops and livestock as well as fish and other wild food sources and provides the diversity of these goods required for a nutritious diet.”

Qu conveyed the importance of the symposium, explaining that monitoring food security on an international level needs to be a major concern

“Our Earth becomes smaller and smaller with its temperature warmer and warmer. Our Earth family becomes bigger and bigger; and extreme weather and climate events occur more often. Global agriculture and food security remain a major concern,” Qu said. “During Oct. 20-24, experts from UN Agencies, governments, universities and research organizations and from private sector agencies in the United States and 15 countries around the world are getting together to discuss how to feed the world, how to care for our Earth and how to keep our Earth sustainable.”

Illustration by Laura Baker