22 January 2024

Climate change, geopolitics and food security: event summary

The following text is an excerpt from an event summary by the Center for Climate and Security. This report was written by Siena Cicarelli, Patricia Parera, and Ethan Wong, and  edited by Tom Ellison and Francesco Femia. This report summarizes the third roundtable in the series, Climate Change, Geopolitics, and Food Security: Implications for Europe, the United States, and Multilateralism, held in Brussels and virtually on 13 November 2023.


This event report is the third for the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) initiative Feeding Resilience, a project dedicated to the U.S. national security benefits of jointly addressing climate change, food security, and stability. The project also aims to share experiences about the nexus of climate change, food insecurity, instability and national security in an effort to identify policy gaps and elicit recommendations and best practices as a foundation for Feeding Resilience’s policy report in 2024.

This report summarizes the third roundtable in the series, Climate Change, Geopolitics, and Food Security: Implications for Europe, the United States, and Multilateralism, held in Brussels and virtually on 13 November 2023. The discussion was co-sponsored by the European Policy Centre (EPC) and Nexus25, the latter being a joint CCS/Istituto Affari Internazionali project funded by Stiftung Mercator. The roundtable focused on the geopolitical implications of climate change and food insecurity, with insights from European Union (EU) institutions, United Nations Development and Humanitarian agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), United States military and civil society organizations, and the organizers.

The roundtable was held under Chatham House Rule, and the list of participants, agenda, and presentations are available at climateandsecurity.org/feeding-resilience-3 and in Annexes 1 and 2 of this report.

Key Takeaways

Below is a summary of key takeaways from the policy discussion.

Food is Central to Geopolitical Competition and Cooperation

  • Food systems – and food security – are increasingly critical geopolitical factors, involving every region, multilateral body, and policy area. As previously stated by CCS, all “climate change discussions are deeply intertwined with geopolitical competition and cannot be seen in isolation.”
  • Geopolitical calculations are a growing factor in food systems and climate-focused investments. Food insecurity and gaps in the agrifood system create vulnerabilities that bad actors can exploit for geopolitical gain, as demonstrated by Russia’s attacks on agricultural infrastructure and weaponization of disrupted Ukrainian food exports to advance its aims.
  • Food and agriculture is a key area of competition and cooperation with China, which faces acute and long-term food security challenges of its own. As Western policy makers seek to derisk relations with Beijing, they should be wary of fracturing the global food system. Instead, improving food systems are a national security priority for both the Chinese government and the West, offering a rare opportunity for multilateral cooperation in an otherwise contentious policy environment.
  • Food insecurity has the potential to exacerbate broader instability, conflict and competition, particularly if climate finance fails to reach those most affected by climate change. Policymakers must recognize these links and begin integrating them into their strategic planning.
  • As noted by previous Feeding Resilience roundtables, there is a “need to develop, maintain, and strengthen military readiness in a more volatile food and climate landscape, as well as mainstreaming an appreciation of the geopolitical benefits of food and climate investments in an environment of geostrategic competition.”

Managing Both Short-Term and Long-Term Risks

  • Food insecurity must be viewed as both an immediate and a longer-term threat. Roughly 735 million people faced hunger in 2022, with those numbers likely to climb as climate change impacts agrifood systems. This is critical for development, humanitarian and security actors alike; as more people feel the “threat of hunger”, there is a risk of increased political instability or conflict.
  • Today’s short-term challenges will exacerbate the long-term impacts of climate change on existing agri-food systems, supply chains, and vulnerable populations, mainly small rural farmers. Food systems are the first to suffer the impact of climate change through precipitation change, temperature spikes, and desertification, which could push millions into poverty, drive migration, disrupt social cohesion, and destabilize conflict-prone regions.
  • As policymakers look to manage these short-term risks, they must not lose sight of the longer-term effects of climate change on food security—and begin investing accordingly.

Co-Benefits In An Era Of Financial Constraints

  • The amount of resources needed to address food security and the other knock-on effects of climate change is expected to increase.
  • The resources needed to transform food systems and meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are around $350 billion per year by 2030.
  • At the same time, governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society face significant financial constraints as they balance this growing need with competing priorities, tough economic conditions, and risk aversion.
  • Recognizing these constraints, policymakers need to use limited resources more effectively and focus on “co-benefits”—programs that simultaneously support their security, development, and sustainability objectives. This should include mainstreaming climate considerations into existing programs, avoiding redundancy, and breaking down silos among development, diplomacy, and defense.
Photo credit: Flickr/CIFOR