Climate change and a looming cooking oil crisis: Here’s what we can do

Amanda Leland

Millions around the globe, already facing food shortages and an escalating hunger crisis, are being hit with a new problem: skyrocketing prices and shortages of vegetable oils used in everyday cooking.

In recent months, we have seen:

Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has reduced that country’s huge agricultural exports, including sunflower oil.

Cooking oil is something almost all of us use every day to feed our families, and many of us take it for granted. But the rising cost at my local grocery store is nothing compared to the serious consequences for countless people who have far less reliable access to nutritious food than I do.

The shortages are likely to cause a ripple effect of sticker shock throughout the food economy — and as a result, even more hunger worldwide. That’s particularly true in developing regions where a high percentage of household spending goes toward palm oil and other common staples.

The world faces a range of challenges that have led to this moment, but climate change sits at the top of the list because it will only worsen — unless we act now.

For example, in many parts of the world, corn yields will decrease within the next three decades. By 2050, more than half of the global population will live in areas that won’t have enough water at least one month out of the year.

3 ways nature can help solve the food crisis

We need not accept this as our fate. In fact, by supporting our food producers now in transitioning to regenerative agriculture — farming in harmony with nature — we can create an upward spiral of climate action, access to nutritious food for all and more stable communities.

Here are three steps:

  1. Limit the risk of crops failing around the world at the same time by making the systems that produce crops more resilient, including by broadening the range of crops that we grow and where we grow them. Think of it as a bit like the stock market: A more diverse portfolio is better prepared for external shocks. But farmers will need robust support from government, industry and civil society.
  2. Invest in new food oil sources, such as oil produced from yeasts and algae, that have the potential for a far lower environmental footprint than existing oils on the market today.
  3. Tap into the full potential of blue foods — fish and other foods from the ocean. This includes increasing sustainable seafood aquaculture (also known as fish farming) and improving management of fisheries that capture wild fish. Together, these upgrades will improve reliable access to healthy food for the 3 billion people worldwide who already rely on protein from the ocean and increase access to protein and nutrients for others.

We need swift climate action now

The world’s food producers are on the front lines of climate change, which is already driving them to shift their practices to help stem the problem and adapt. Of course, climate leadership also requires shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy sources like wind and solar.

Only by addressing the climate crisis can we truly stop the destruction of ecosystems and the widespread warming of the planet that is increasingly at the heart of today’s food shortages and the hunger crisis.

We live in a deeply interconnected world, particularly when it comes to food production. A shift in the climate in Southeast Asia can cause families in the Middle East to go hungry, just as a war in Eastern Europe can cause the price of bread to rise worldwide — pushing it out of budget for families from Calcutta to Cleveland.

Climate change looms as the ultimate accelerator of our global food challenges and worsening hunger crisis — unless we take swift action today to embrace regenerative agriculture and help ensure a vital Earth for everyone.


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