Global food price crisis looms because of extreme weather events

» By | Published 06 Sep 2012

Climate change and extreme weather events caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions will result in rapidly increasing global food prices that will negatively affect millions of people.

That’s the central message of a sobering new report — Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices; The costs of feeding a warming world — that was published Wednesday by Oxfam International.

“Oxfam-commissioned research suggests that the average price of staple foods such as maize could more than double in the next 20 years compared with 2010 trend prices – with up to half of the increase due to changes in average temperatures and rainfall patterns,” the report said.

“More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilizing markets, and precipitating food price spikes which will be felt on top of the projected structural price rises.”

Using new research which models the impact of extreme weather on the prices of key international staple crops in 2030, the Oxfam report says existing scientific data, which considers the gradual effects of climate change but does not take account of extreme weather, is significantly underestimating the potential implications of climate change for food prices.

In an accompanying press release, Oxfam’s Climate Change Policy Adviser Tim Gore said such price spikes would be a massive blow to the world’s poorest who today spend up to 75% of their income on food.

“The huge potential impact of extreme weather events on future food prices is missing from today’s climate change debate,” Gore said. “The world needs to wake up to the drastic consequences facing our food system of climate inaction.”

Noting that the 2011 yearly average of greenhouse gas emissions was the highest yet, the report said the world is heading for average global warming of 2.5–5°C this century. It added the global food system can not cope with unmitigated climate change.

“Our governments ‘stress-tested’ the banks after the financial crisis. We now need to stress test the global food system under climate change to identify where we are most vulnerable,” Gore said.

The press release noted the report comes as UN talks aimed at tackling climate change closed Wednesday in Bangkok with little sign of progress.

According to the International Energy Agency, electricity accounts for 40% of global energy-related CO2 emissions; these emissions will grow by 58% globally by 2030 unless new policy measures are introduced. Wind power is a key part of the solution. It plays a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and can be rapidly deployed. Wind energy is already helping to fight climate change: each wind-produced kWh avoids a kWh created by the energy mix of coal, oil and gas – on average 696 gCO₂/kWh.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that Martin Lidegaard, Denmark’s Climate Minister, said Wednesday that the fight against global warming should move to the top of the world’s political agenda and the European Union has to lead the shift to climate-friendly policies.

“Climate change is not only an environmental time-bomb, it is a serious threat to our economies and well-being,” Bloomberg said Lidegaard wrote in an online discussion hosted by the WWF’s Climate and Energy Forum. “The writing on the wall is crystal clear: we have to act now.”

A recent posting on the European Wind Energy Association’s blog noted that a growing amount of evidence suggests human activity associated with climate change also likely contributes to extreme weather.

Nobel Laureate Mario Molina was quoted as saying new scientific analysis strengthens the view that record-breaking summer heat, crop-withering drought and other extreme weather events in recent years do result from global warming.