The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its newest findings on global warming, and the general conclusion is unsurprising: pollution is harming our environment in such a way that there will be dire consequences in the future. But the report had an even more interesting finding: the framing around climate change is all wrong. Climate change has become much more than an environmental issue and, as a future determinant of food security, has bled into our understanding of human rights.
The framing of an issue is critical to policy formation and resource mobilization. If an issue does not have the proper framing, one that appeals to the general public, then gaining public support becomes that much more difficult. Look at issues such as gay marriage. When gay marriage was a religious issue, no progress was made on legalizing it. Only when supporters framed gay marriage as a civil rights issue did legalization begin to occur. The same theory applies to development issues.
The current understanding of climate change is that it is an environmental issue that can affect the occurrence and size of natural disasters. Climate change can lead to massive blizzards, devastating typhoons, and the melting of the polar icecaps. But framing climate change in a natural disaster context does not convey the urgency of the issue. With or without climate change, natural disasters are going to occur. No human intervention can stop it. As a result, the common perception is that there are no immediate benefits to addressing climate change and this understanding promotes apathy in the general public.
The discussion of climate change, however, might be more productive if the development community transformed it into a food security issue that directly impacts human rights. IPCC findings show that agricultural yields could drastically decrease as soon as 2030, and just a two-degree change in temperature has the ability to kill crops and create food shortages. The IPCC report further shows that not only will there be a food shortage, but the shortage could cause a food price increase anywhere from 3% to 84%. So in addition to there being too little food, food will only be affordable for the wealthy, placing countries with high food insecurity at an elevated risk for civil unrest.
Framing climate change as a food security issue adds more urgency to the problem and could help mobilize the general public to take action, regardless of their history with natural disasters. It transforms the picture of climate change from being a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan to an issue directly on people’s doorstep that could affect them at any moment. Food insecurity directly affects people at an individual level and puts every individual’s human rights at risk. It encourages the “not in my backyard” mentality that Americans in particular are very fond of. Climate change no longer just places the rights of those in developing nations at risk. Even those far removed from natural disasters can feel its effect.
Some argue that the IPCC is overdramatizing the threat to food security. While this is entirely possible, it does not change the fact that a changing the framework of climate change could be key to mobilizing the public to take preventative measures. The same applies to any development issue. The development community must place increasing importance on the framing of its issues as a way to mobilize support. Some issues have already benefited from changing its frame. Female empowerment as an economic necessity is the perfect example of an issue capitalizing on a universally appealing framework. But the development community must do even more to further its other causes. Framing will tell people why they should care about international development. How can private organizations benefit from foreign investment? Why should high-income individuals care about a problem thousands of miles away? If the proper framework is not in place, then development will continue to face an uphill battle against public apathy.