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Independent report highlights risks of extreme weather on global food supplies

Rice fields in Indonesia (courtesy Dr Robin Matthews)
"The resilience of the global food system is likely to be impacted by future extreme weather events, posing a threat to food security, particularly for the most vulnerable people in food importing countries

Extreme weather such as intense storms, droughts and heatwaves will cause more frequent and severe food production shocks leading to shortages as the global climate and food supply systems change; this was the stark warning issued by a report which included input from Dr Mike Rivington at the James Hutton Institute. The study, produced by an independent taskforce of British and American scientists, outlines key recommendations to safeguard against threats to food supplies.

The Extreme Weather and Resilience of the Global Food System report calls for co-ordinated action around the world to mitigate the impacts on people. Recommendations include creating an international contingency plan, adapting agriculture for a changing climate, developing better modelling methods that will more accurately predict effects of production shocks, and identifying international trading ‘pinch points’ to try and minimise them.

Researchers have analysed past events and concluded that the risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by around 2040. From 2070 onward, they estimate that severe shocks, in which global food production drops by 10%, could be happening in seven out of ten years. The increasing volumes of international food trade may help dampen the shocks in developed countries but amplify production shocks in developing ones, creating situations of economic and political instability.

Dr Rivington, from the Institute’s Information and Computational sciences group, said: “The resilience of the global food system is likely to be impacted by future extreme weather events, posing a threat to food security, particularly for the most vulnerable people in food importing countries. The frequency of droughts, floods and heatwaves, along with additional intensity of storms is likely to increase due to climate change, risking food price shocks and downstream consequences.

“By looking at previous extremes we were able to develop plausible future impacts and response scenarios, showing that the probability of production and price shocks is likely to increase. Previously the risk was in the region of 1 in 100 years, this potentially reduces to 1 in 30 soon, with extreme events being possibly more severe.  These shocks have short-term impacts beyond food price rises, such as export restrictions and nations keeping larger reserves leading to shortages elsewhere risking civil unrest and reduced political and economic stability.

“Extreme weather events, along with background climate change and our potential responses to the impacts also have long-term consequences, such as unsustainable intensification of agriculture and degradation of ecosystems. The additional pressure on the global food system from extreme weather occurs whilst food demand is increasing due to diet choices and population growth and our need to protect our valuable food producing ecosystems”.

Further work is also needed to understand and reduce the uncertainty surrounding the way extreme weather may occur and change. There is, however, good evidence to support the view that extreme weather patterns, such as intense storms, droughts and heatwaves, are increasing in frequency and severity.

The report also highlights the need for agriculture to adapt to changes in climate and to diversify in the face of extreme weather, while at the same time increasing productivity in the face of increasing global demand for food. The impacts are also most likely to be felt across Africa and the Middle East.

There is therefore a need to develop risk reduction strategies and contingency plans, and to invest in building food system resilience to reduce the impacts on people.

The report was brought together by the UK’s Global Food Security Programme and was jointly commissioned by the UK Science and Innovation Network and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Notes to editors

The Extreme Weather and Resilience of the Global Food System report can be accessed at the University of Cambridge's Centre for Science and Policy website.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/independent-report-highlights-risks-extreme-weather-global-food-supplies on 20/11/19 12:16:36 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.