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Extreme weather risks tripling food shortages: new study


Leeanna McLean
Digital Reporter

Sunday, August 23, 2015, 1:00 - Global food shortages will become three times more likely as a result of climate change, according to a new report by a U.S.-U.K. joint task force.

The study published this month warns the international community of food price spikes as a result of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and floods.

The report highlights the ongoing drought in the American Midwest and how it triggered a price spike in international maize and soybean prices in 2012 as an example. Similarly, in 2010/11, a rapid food-price inflation occurred in Eastern Europe and Russia due to a weather-related event.


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This new study by the U.S.-U.K. Task force on Extreme Weather & Global Food System Resilience is the latest in a series of findings about the effect of climate change on the food supply.

From barley in beer, to grapes for wine, and even the desert-dwelling agave that is the source of tequila, our world's changing climate is also going to start also bumping up liquor prices. While human food and drink may be affected by global warming, some of our deep-sea counterparts are benefiting. Another new study suggests the nutrient-rich water from melting Antarctic glaciers is nourishing the ocean food chain.

The new task force report illustrates “production shocks” whereby the world’s four major commodity crops – maize, soybean, wheat and rice – could be seriously disrupted as frequently as once every 30 years.

“Action is urgently needed to understand risks better, improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks and to mitigate their impact on people,” Tim Benton, professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds and co-author of the report said in a statement.

The demand for food will increase to more than 60 per cent by 2050 to meet the demands of a rising global population, which is expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century from 7.3 billion today, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In areas where household food insecurity is high, "civil unrest might spill over into violence or conflict," the study notes.

The task force calls for governments to work together to reduce vulnerability to local production shocks. There is a need for agriculture to adapt to a changing climate, while at the same time increasing productivity in the face of extreme weather events and a growing demand for food, the report notes.

Other key recommendations include: A better understanding of the risks by improving climate, economic and crop modelling tools, improving coordinate risk management and not imposing export restrictions.

“We know that the climate is changing and weather records are being broken all the time,” Sir David King, U.K.’s Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, said in the report. “Some of these weather records make a big impact on people – their ability to make a living and feed their families and in some cases their vulnerability to extreme events.”

Source: U.S.-U.K. Task Force on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience

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