Impact of climate change on food prices is underestimated

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

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Climate change will increasingly drive extreme weather shocks that will cause more dramatic spikes in future global food prices, according to international relief and development organization Oxfam America. Future extreme weather events, like the US drought, could spike prices drastically with devastating consequences for the poorest people in the world.

In a new report, Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, Oxfam shows that the full impact of climate change on future food prices is being underestimated.  Current research only tends to consider these gradual impacts of climate change on food prices, such as increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.

“Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns hold back crop production and cause steady but significant price rises,” said Heather Coleman, climate change policy advisor for Oxfam America.  “But extreme weather events – like the current US drought – can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes in just a few months.”

Oxfam’s research looks at the impact of extreme weather scenarios on food prices in 2030 and it finds:

  • Even under a conservative scenario another US drought in 2030, the price of corn could rise by as much as 140 percent over and above the average price of food in 2030, which is already likely to be double today’s prices.
  • Drought and flooding in southern Africa could increase the consumer price of corn and other coarse grains by as much as 120 percent.  Price spikes of this magnitude today would mean the cost of a 55lb bag of corn meal—a staple which feeds poor families across Africa for about two weeks—would rocket from around $18 to $40.
  • A nationwide drought in India and extensive flooding across South East Asia could see the world market price of rice increase by 22 percent. This could see domestic spikes of up to 43 percent on top of longer term price rises in rice importing countries of such as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

The research warns that in 2030, the world could be even more vulnerable to the kind of drought happening today in the US, as dependence on US exports of wheat and corn is predicted to rise as climate change increases the likelihood of extreme droughts in North America.

“We will all feel the impact as prices spikes but the poorest people will be hit hardest because they often spend up to 75 percent of their income on food,” said Coleman. “The world needs to wake up to the drastic consequences we will all face because of climate inaction.”

The report also warns that climate shocks in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to have an increasingly dramatic impact in 2030, as 95 percent of grains such as corn, millet and sorghum that are consumed in sub-Saharan Africa could come from the region itself.

“As emissions continue to soar, this year’s extreme weather provides a glimpse of how food production could suffer in a warming world,” said Coleman. “Our planet is boiling and if we don’t act now, hunger will increase for millions of people on our planet.”

Oxfam’s report comes as the US Department of Agriculture releases its household food security report and as United Nations talks aimed at tackling climate change close in Bangkok. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is also due to publish an update tomorrow on how the worst US drought in sixty years is impacting on global food prices.

“We have no more time to waste,” said Coleman. “The US and governments around the world must take immediate action to address volatile food prices and slash rising greenhouse gas emissions, reverse decades of under investment in small scale agriculture in poor countries, and help poor farmers build their resilience to a changing climate.”

Read the full report at: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/publications/extreme-weather-extreme-prices

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