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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Deputy presents Office’s report on climate change and the right to food

14 March 2024

Delivered by

Nada Al-Nashif United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights


55th session of the Human Rights Council - Measures for minimizing the adverse impact of climate change on the full realization of the right to food



Thank you, Madam Vice-President,
Your Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates, 
Good morning.

The triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss continues to generate massive human rights violations around the world.

It contributes to conflicts that batter people's lives and rights. To displacement, which drives them from their homes and lands. And to hunger and starvation that create unbearable suffering, stunt children's growth, making both children and adults more vulnerable to disease –ultimately, destroying lives and livelihoods. 

Our world has the capacity to feed everyone. No-one in this 21st century should have to go hungry. And yet, despite the world's pledge to create a world free of hunger by 2030,  783 million people – over 9% of the world's population – endured chronic hunger last year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). More than 333 million people faced acute levels of food insecurity – an increase of almost 200 million compared with pre-pandemic levels. Others faced famine, and even starvation. So, instead of meeting our Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030, FAO estimates that in 2030, despite some progress, almost 600 million people will still be suffering from hunger.

Climate change is among the chief drivers of this hunger crisis.

Sudden and slow-onset events, such as heatwaves, droughts, sea-level rise, and flooding wreak havoc on crops and systems for producing and delivering all food – generating loss and damage for the communities that support and depend on them.

When the High Commissioner visited Iraq last year, he witnessed first-hand how the worst drought in 40 years has created a crisis of water scarcity, destroyed livelihoods and traditions that are dependent on agriculture and fishing, and turned parts of the ancient fertile crescent – which has been a lush food source for over 10,000 years – into crumbling, barren dust.

The deterioration of local food systems and livelihoods dependent on a safe and stable climate can drive displacement. Our research in the Sahel found that diminishing access to food and livelihoods in agriculture, pastoralism and fishing acted as a driver of migration. It highlighted gendered impacts of climate change while underscoring that building climate resilience, including through social protection systems, can often reduce the risk of forced displacement.

Unjust systems of land distribution also need to be addressed. States need to recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples, of peasants, of those in situations of poverty and vulnerability, other groups also, to own, access, and sustainably use lands and resources, and adopt agrarian reform measures as and where appropriate.

The climate emergency is upon us.

The dystopian future, a world with suffering and injustice that we could not have imagined, is now. The outcome of the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement, adopted in December at the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, recognized the priority of safeguarding food security, given the vulnerability of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.

This acknowledgment is crucial. And it must be followed by action.

Madam Vice-President,

Our report A/HRC/55/37 details human rights-based measures that can help to minimize the impacts of climate change on people's right to food and of current food systems on climate change. Social and economic systems intersect with climate change to generate disproportionate food insecurity for specific groups. The report demonstrates how human rights measures, including within food systems, can address this loss and damage caused by climate change.

First, we need rights-based action to mitigate climate change starting with a transition to sustainable, equitable and climate-resilient food systems and we need to prevent industrial agricultural production from further fuelling climate change. The current economic paradigm creates a vicious cycle: climate impacts deepen food insecurity, while overreliance on industrial food systems exacerbates climate change and the vulnerability of communities.

 Concretely, we need measures to reduce food systems emissions including with respect to production, consumption, diet, and food waste and loss. These measures must be fair, taking into account the current and historical responsibility of States and businesses in causing climate change, as well as their respective capacities for action.

Second, to better protect people impacted by climate change, all countries need to advance universal social protection. The climate crisis clearly exacerbates patterns of poverty, of inequalities and of food insecurity. And social protection can ensure people continue to have access to quality food, supporting cohesive and resilient societies in the face of crisis.  

Third, it is crucial to ensure that businesses act responsibly to address climate change and its impact on the right to food. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights require accountability. They need to be applied by States and businesses, ensuring respect for all human rights throughout their business operations and value chains.

Fourth, financing must be mobilized, and appropriate economic and trade policies adopted to fulfil the right to food. It is crucial to safeguard the fiscal space for key investments in human rights. Currently, some 3.3 billion people – almost half of humanity – live in countries that spend more money paying interest on their debts than on education or health. International financial institutions are in need of swift reforms, as we have often said. And States need to cooperate to enable economic policies that can protect the right to food.

Fifth, as the Council and the General Assembly have emphatically declared, all people have a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Transitioning to sustainable food systems that are better grounded in natural processes can help to ensure sustainable food security for all. Examples include agroecology; regenerative agriculture; soil rehabilitation techniques; and management of fisheries to sustain healthy and resilient ecosystems. Such approaches preserve biodiversity, reduce the use of chemicals and fossil fuels, and produce healthier food.

Several States have shared interesting examples, including financial schemes to boost local food production by cooperatives; promotion of agroecology and collective custody of biocultural heritage, as part of national action to adapt to climate change; and efforts to empower fisheries communities to pursue sustainable livelihoods. And these are all encouraging steps.

Your Excellencies,

We are the generation with the most powerful technological tools yet. As such, we have the ability to reverse this trend. I call on all Governments to meet their responsibility and act now to realise the universal right to food and uphold the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.  Let us join forces in a spirit of solidarity and shared humanity.

Thank you very much.