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Meet the researchers: The complex effect of climate changes on agriculture, human livelihoods, and poverty

An interview with LUCSUS Professor Lennart Olsson, specialising on land management, agriculture, and poverty: “There is now a strong sense of urgency surrounding efforts to combat climate change, such as emission reductions, adequate funding, and loss and damage compensation.”
Lennart Olsson, photo: Lund University
Lennart Olsson, photo: Lund University

Lennart specialises in climate impacts on land management, agriculture, and poverty. “There is now a strong sense of urgency surrounding efforts to combat climate change, such as emission reductions, adequate funding, and loss and damage compensation,” begins Lennart. The upcoming COP21 negotiation in Paris is the platform where proposed efforts are highly expected to be formed into an agreement.

Some important topics that will be negotiated in Paris include emission reductions, mitigation and adaption funding, and loss and damage compensation. Lennart comments that, “There is a bigger chance for a concrete outcome in Paris, but the proposed INDCs are not enough to meet the 2 degrees Celsius target.” Lennart expects an agreement regarding emission pledges, but predicts that funding and loss and damage negotiations may be problematic and could increase tension between the developed north and emerging south.

Heat waves, droughts and coastal vulnerability

While many complex climate change issues exist, three that are of specific importance to Lennart are heat waves, droughts, and coastal vulnerability. “We have not realised how serious heat waves are. Some areas will experience increased frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves,” explains Lennart. Heat waves are a health problem, as well as a social problem. “Chicago’s heat wave in 1995 showed how quickly society collapsed due to crime, water use, and conflicts between different groups in society. Poor people who often depend on hard physical labor are particularly vulnerable because they cannot afford the rest required to endure the heat,” states Lennart.

Droughts, such as recent examples in California and Australia, will have negative impacts on agriculture and water supplies. “Simultaneous droughts in agriculture-heavy areas, will affect food prices and the livelihoods of poorer people globally.” Many poor people are dependent on agriculture for both food and jobs. “Poor people who depend on grain as their staple food, such as maize, millet, rice or sorghum would also be the most affected by changes in food prices because the price of their food is more directly related to the price of the raw material,” adds Lennart.

Densely populated coastal areas, such as deltas, and other low-lying areas are increasingly vulnerable to changes in sea level, weather intensity, in combination with other non-climate related stressors, such as sinking land due to extraction and pumping of ground water. “The funding for climate change adaption has an ‘additionality principle.’ This means  that international adaptation funds can only be provided as additional support for preventing damages due to anthropogenic (human caused) climate change,” states Lennart. This principle creates more tension, as it requires struggling regions to use all their national financial resources prior to receiving additional financial aid from other nations.

IPCC 5th Assessment Report lead author on livelihood and poverty

In addition to teaching and researching, Lennart also has written for the 2014 IPCC 5th Assessment Report chapter on livelihood and poverty. The assessment will be one of the main scientific inputs to COP21. He led a group of eight people in a systematic and comprehensive study of everything that has been published on climate change impacts on livelihoods and poverty. Lennart has also been involved in studying “land grabbing,” where richer actors purchase land from poorer actors for food or energy security. “This is causing huge problems for original land-owners in areas like Sierra Leone and Tanzania, who depend on their land for a means of existence,” states Lennart.

Increased tension over land and impacts on large-scale agriculture

Lennart also anticipates increased tension over land and big impacts on large-scale, industrial agriculture. “Commercial agriculture will be hit hard, and small-scale, diverse agriculture may have an advantage over it. For example, livestock that is highly bred for meat or dairy production is more vulnerable to climate changes.” The interactions between climate change and agriculture, poverty, and human well-being are very complex. Although these interactions can be difficult to predict and may affect poorer people more severely, Lennart concludes that “there is a silver lining because small scale, diverse agriculture is more adaptive to climate variability and is more capable of minimising risks.”

Text: Jack Fraser

 

Meet the researchers - Reflections on COP 21

King George Island, Antarctica. UN Photo/Eskinder
King George Island, Antarctica. UN Photo/Eskinder

Read interviews by the Sustainability Forum journalist Jack Fraser, also a master student at iiiee, The Environmental Institute at Lund University.

He has met researchers from Lund University with different expert views on COP21 issues in Paris 2015.

Read all the interviews

Contact Information

Lennart Olsson
Professor at LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
E-mail: lennart.olsson [at] lucsus.lu.se
Telephone: +46 46 222 05 11

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