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Jean-Louis Chaussade

Jean-Louis
Chaussade

Chief Executive Officer, SUEZ

Jean-Louis Chaussade

Climate Change and Food Security: Two Intrinsically-linked Global Issues

As the population of our planet grows and the urban explosion continues, climate change represents a new challenge for our existing food production systems. (…) Climate change is not simply a matter of energy. Water resources are amongst the first ecosystems to be impacted by climate change. How can we guarantee food security and access to drinking water for all, in a world that could have 9 billion inhabitants by 2035, and where pessimistic forecasts predict a temperature rise of over 2 degrees Celsius? These challenges demand concrete actions and answers from all in our societies, from public authorities to businesses, NGOs and citizens.

Protecting food security, promoting sustainable agriculture and guaranteeing access to water for all, under equitable conditions… These are objectives that were made a top priority by the UN when listing them in their Sustainable Development Goals adopted a few weeks before COP21. Conflicting uses, water shortages and the pollution of resources all threaten the stability of food and drinking water production systems. These threats already exist today, but they will considerably worsen in the future due to the impact of climate change. We have already observed a multiplication of droughts across the world, from California to the Mediterranean basin. We already know that, by 2035, 40% of the world’s population will inhabit regions suffering from water stress, that food production will have to rise by 70% within the next 35 years in order to feed the world’s population, and that 600 million people could be undernourished by 2050. In view of these facts, we must all fulfil our roles, inventing and implementing new production models. Agriculture, which currently consumes 70% of water supplies worldwide, must adapt and produce using less water. This change can be supported by the deployment of smart irrigation systems, delivering the right water to the right place at the right time; by the development of tools to monitor water table levels; by the implementation of solutions to manage underground water assets or call upon alternative water production means, such as reuse, etc. The management of wastewater and waste is also crucial in addressing these issues. By reducing the proportion of untreated wastewater discharged into natural ecosystems; by combating the burial and disposal of waste in natural ecosystems that, all too often, lead to the ocean, we can help protect the biodiversity that is essential to the security of our food production.

There is no shortage of technical solutions, and more will continue to be developed. We should rejoice in the wealth of solutions and innovations across the world. But these technical solutions will not suffice unless we change the way we behave and act. The reduction of food waste is another key issue when it comes to the production of foodstuffs. Estimates claim that one third of the food produced worldwide every year goes to waste, because of storage and transportation problems higher up the supply chain, or due to waste by consumers. In other words, 30% of farming land is used to grow food that is simply thrown away. A fact that represents a waste of water and a proliferation of waste, which then produces large quantities of greenhouse gases as it deteriorates. If food waste were a State, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. We no longer have the means to pay the environmental cost of all this waste.

It is now more important than ever before that we optimise the management of our resources and change our production models into something more sober and sustainable, if we are to rise to the challenges facing us. The mobilisation of everyone, and the combination of political, economic, social and societal expertise, will help our leaders forge the new, climatically-responsible alliances we need today, for the sake of future generations.

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