The world cannot achieve food security without first tackling global warming, the United Nations secretary-general said on Monday, warning that failure at next month’s international climate change negotiations would result in a rise in hunger.

The warning by Ban Ki-Moon at the start of a three-day UN world food summit in Rome came one day after Barack Obama, US president, backed European and UN views that the Copenhagen summit would not produce a legally-binding agreement to tackle global warming.

“There cannot be food security without climate security,” Mr Ban said. “Today’s event is critical,” he said, referring to the food summit, “so is Copenhagen.”

Mr Ban’s comments signal how leaders are grappling with the need to respond coherently – and simultaneously – to energy, food and climate challenges. “The three are key for political security and stability,” said Alexander Muller, assistant director-general at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Jim Fitzpatrick, UK minister for food, farming and environment, told the Financial Times that food and climate security were “two sides of the same coin”.

The summit was convened in response to last year’s food crisis, which saw record prices for staples such as wheat and rice, food riots in about 30 countries and pushed the number of chronically hungry people above 1bn for the first time.

“Millions of families have being pushed into poverty,” Mr Ban said. “Over the past year and a half, food insecurity led to political instability in more than 30 countries.”

The problems are just a prelude of worse to come unless countries take rapid action to improve food security and tackle global warming, according to the UN chief. “By 2050, we will need to grow 70 per cent more food,” Mr Ban said. “But weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable The food crisis of today is a wake-up call for tomorrow.”

He stressed that water was rapidly becoming a scarce commodity.

The International Food and Policy Research Institute, a government-funded think-tank based in Washington, estimates that if countries do not tackle climate change, child malnutrition will rise by 20 per cent by 2050.

“Climate change will eliminate much of the improvement in child malnourishment levels that would occur with no climate change,” the institute said in a recent report on food security and climate.

“The accelerating pace of climate change, combined with global population and income growth, threatens food security everywhere,” the report added.

The summit’s declaration, approved yesterday, reflects that sentiment. “Climate change poses additional severe risk to food security and the agriculture sector,” it said. But the declaration was short on setting targets and timeframes, and was watered down from an early draft, non-governmental organisations cautioned. Countries committed to “a crucial, decisive shift towards increased” investment in agriculture but without setting any target or timeframe.

Even so, diplomats said it was a strong change after almost three decades of neglect during which time the share of official development aid devoted to agriculture plunged; by 2006 it had sunk to 3.8 per cent, down from 17 per cent in 1980. In the past few months, aid for long-term investment in agriculture has started to rise.

The declaration is, in effect, an endorsement of the the strategy adopted by the world’s most industrialised nations at the Group of Eight’s summit in L’Aquila, Italy, where they promised a shift towards long-term investment in agriculture from a previous focus on food aid and promised $20bn over three years

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