Thursday, 27 June 2013

FOOD INSECURITY?

Before you can find the solution to a problem you first have to recognise that there is a problem – so rather than talking about ‘Food Security’ we should be talking about ‘Food Insecurity’. Some interesting research produced for Defra by consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) suggests that the UK is likely to be hit by increasingly unstable food prices as the climate is disrupted. The report warns that global production of some foodstuffs is concentrated in a few countries and that these countries are likely to suffer increasing episodes of extreme weather.

Basically what it comes down to is that the effects of climate change abroad will have a far more immediate impact initially on the UK than direct climate change.  PWC has noted in its report that that while there will be some opportunities for the UK from climate change these are likely to be outweighed by resultant problems. Short term opportunities may include the export of technology and reduced shipping costs if the Arctic becomes ice-free (which if the UK retained a merchant navy might have been a real opportunity).

They note that the Arctic looks likely to be a big business opportunity; with research estimates suggesting that it is likely to attract more than £64 billion pounds of investments over the next ten years. Yet the biggest threats remain increased volatility in food prices and possible protectionist measures over food supplies being brought in e.g. India's ban on selling rice. The report warns that as the climate changes, there will be pressure for the UK to increase its aid budgets.

PWC’s report comes in the wake of a recent UK Government Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) which has assessed domestic threats and opportunities and the Foresight study into international climate change. This was based on the UN's "medium CO2 emissions scenario" (where there will only be a 2C maximum temperature increase) which is a target that won’t be met.  Chatham House has described climate change as a multiplier of other threats.

Here in the UK we have already adjusted to the fact that food and fuel prices are already pretty volatile, we don’t like it but we have little choice but to live with it. Yet our respective governments have not adjusted to the new reality and are pretty much carrying on like pursuing the same old policies. It’s time to face up to the fact that  there will be implications at home from environmental change, including water scarcity and extreme weather elsewhere, which will affect food production and the shipment of key resources and that this is something that  looks as though it will get worse.

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