Food insecurity and the connection between poverty and environmental sustainability

The effects of climate change create an array of current and potential problems for local and  international communities. The subsequent issues that arise out of climate change impact multiple sectors within a society and require collective efforts in government to create applicable mitigation and preventative strategies to combat these issues. Although climate change affects everyone, vulnerable members  of the population experience greater impacts to their livelihood and health furthering the inequities they face. 

The issue of food insecurity is intertwined with poverty and environmental sustainability. Food insecurity is one of the many consequences that arises from climate change. Climate change has decreased the overall access to food, reduced food availability, and made food utilization more difficult (Brown et al., 2015). Food insecurity establishes itself as a pressing issue nationally in Canada, and locally within the Middlesex-London community. An estimated one  in seven  Middlesex-London households experiences food insecurity . (Middlesex-London Health Unit, 2022) 

One of the prominent causes of food insecurity is linked to lower individual or household income. (Cloona, 2021) Those who maintain a lower annual income are vulnerable to, or already face food insecurity, and with increasing pressures of climate change, this contributes to the systemic inequality towards people who are experiencing poverty. In other words, for individuals who lack access to basic needs, increases in food prices  exacerbate food insecurity. 

Food security exists when “all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food preferences for an active and healthy life.” (Brown et al., 2015) For food security to exist, there are many associated components in the food system which include everything to do with; food production, transporting, trading, storing, processing, packaging, wholesaling, retailing, consuming, and disposing of food. (Brown et al., 2015) Despite the intricacies of a food system and the components present, each element is susceptible to the effects of  climate change. (Brown et al., 2015) This is attributed mainly to the increase in temperatures, changing participation patterns, and a larger frequency of extreme weather. (Mbow et al., 2019) Climate change ultimately affects the scarcity of food and results in an increase in prices that only wealthier populations in society will be able afford. The progression of climate change, as seen through food insecurity, plays a significant role in regressing SDG efforts with particular attention to the efforts of “No Poverty.” 

“No Poverty” is the first out of the 17 SDG goals, and the goal is  further described as “ending poverty in all its forms everywhere” (United Nations, 2022). There has been a global decrease in people experiencing  extreme poverty, declining from 36 per cent of the worldwide population in 1990 to 10 per cent  in 2015 (United Nations, 2022). The pace of progress in poverty alleviation has halted due to the global implications created by the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to face setbacks with issues such as climate change – ultimately deepening the systemic divides of poverty (United Nations, 2022) .

Relevance and long-term impacts 

Food insecurity because of climate change is a growing concern for current and future generations. As previously emphasized, the focus of studies regarding the long-term impact of climate change on food insecurity is on the increases that will be seen in food prices. Those who maintain a low household income will face more profound hardships, but the increase in food prices will become a problem for all citizens. As the effects of climate change increase on  food production, an increase in prices for the consumer will follow. Under average conditions, the global or local food markets remaining steady can adequately estimate the supply and demand of food. (Mbow et al., 2019) In circumstances where climate forces spikes in the market, there is the potential for market volatility to disrupt the food supply creating massive food price spikes. (Mbow et al., 2019) It is also important to note that the interconnectedness of the food system regarding water, energy, and transportation will also create subsequent effects on one another in terms of overall increased price to grow the crops and import them to local grocery stores.

What is currently being done?

As of now, the city of London has drafted a “Climate Emergency Action Plan” focusing on the different aspects of the community that will be most impacted by  the effects of climate change. The action plan makes the statement, “We must work together to adapt to the changing climate we are experiencing because of historical emissions.” The document expresses  the need to combat climate change explaining the potential catastrophes and changes to be experienced by society. The action plan describes how citizens, businesses and institutions, the city, the province, and the federal government have all made commitments to meet specific thresholds and goals set up for themselves as part of the mitigation effort.  

It is vital that efforts are being made through governmental intervention and personal efforts. Climate actions taken up by governments incentivize the general population to participate in more sustainable behaviour and lifestyle. In London, these efforts are to reach the Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) goals which are described as: 1) Net-zero community greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 2) Improved resilience to climate change impacts, 3) Bring everyone along (e.g. individuals, households, businesses, neighbourhoods). 

What solutions are being proposed?

Members of local and national governments must  direct their attention to climate change combating measures as the consequences will continue to pose threats to multiple areas of society. As reviewed in the city of London CEAP, there is no definitive solution for poverty and food insecurity worsened by climate change, but multiple volunteer and government-run services in the Middlesex-London area provide aid in food insecurity. Some of the solutions for food insecurity (if eligible) include financial aid for basic needs from the Ontario Works program, discretionary benefits, and receiving food hampers from the London Food Bank once every thirty days. (Immigration London-Middlesex County, 2022) As climate change progresses, the Ontario government and the city of London will have to increase their overall spending budgets to support social services. With an increase in individuals being unable to afford the new prices of food, the government will have to offer social services to an even greater number of people, which may also  pose an increase in tax dollars.

Moving forward, solutions must focus on a multi-faceted approach that incorporates the three dimensions of sustainability; economic, social, and environmental. The effects of climate change go beyond the environment, and sustainability measures need to integrate other components of society to work collectively and efficiently. The impacts of climate change expose societal inequalities therefore, an intersectional approach to mitigation efforts is necessary. As implemented by the city of Toronto, a new policy update identified the need for food systems to be integrated with the local climate change planning. (Augustinowicz and Hansen, 2021) This idea of understanding the intersectionality between areas to effectively combat the issue is vital for the future of sustainability. It is necessary for preventative solutions to be integrated in all cities across the country as the changes in climate will progressively begin to impact all citizens – starting with those experiencing poverty.

Works Cited

  1. Augustinowicz, G. and Hansen, E. Policy Brief #2: Climate Change Mitigation in the Food 

System. KPU: Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, 2021.

  1. Brown, M.E, et al. Climate Change Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System: 

U.S. Global Change Research Program. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2015.

  1. “Climate Emergency Action Plan”. The City of London, 2022.

  1. Cloona, Hayley. Impact of Climate Change on Food Security in Canada. The Starfish 

Canada, July 27, 2021.

  1. “Financial, Food, and Housing Assistance” Immigration London-Middlesex County. 

Accessed February 15, 2022.

  1. “Food Insecurity.” Middlesex-London Health Unit. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  1. “Goal 1: End Poverty in All Its Forms Everywhere – United Nations Sustainable 

Development.” United Nations. Accessed February 15, 2022.

  1. Mbow, C., et al., “Food Security”. In: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on 

climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2019.

This blog post series is an ongoing partnership between the SDG Cities program at Pillar Nonprofit Network and the Environmental Stewardship course in the Governance, Leadership, and Ethics program at Huron University. As part of their assignments, students are required to write about real-world challenges using the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) as a holistic framework to analyse the problem and propose solutions that could lead to systemic change and a better future for all. The series presents an opportunity for students to address practical and meaningful challenges that their communities are facing currently,  and an opportunity for SDG Cities to enrich their program by including youth perspectives.

All opinions expressed by the guest authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the SDG Cities program, 10C Shared Space or Pillar Nonprofit Network.