Extreme weather, extreme prices: Time for governments to ‘stress-test’ global food system

Tracy Carty, Climate Change Policy Advisor at Oxfam, writes about Oxfam’s “Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The costs of feeding a warming world” report.


Tracy Carty is a Climate Change Policy Advisor at Oxfam

Oxfam’s new report, “Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices: The costs of feeding a warming world” (pdf), highlights what more extreme weather driven by climate change may mean for future food price spikes.

To date, research on food prices and climate change has looked almost exclusively at the averages: how gradually rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will affect long-run average prices.

It points to a future of higher food prices: Oxfam research (pdf) published last year suggested food prices could double in the next 20 years with up to half the increase due to climate change.

Alarming, but only half the story.

Climate change will also lead to an increase in extreme weather, such as droughts, floods and heatwaves. As today’s US drought lays bare, extreme weather can wipe out harvests and drive up prices precipitously in the short term (the latest figures have been released today by the FAO).

But current research does not account for how these extremes might affect future global food prices.

Oxfam’s report shows that in the coming decades the world will be even more vulnerable to such a drought in the US, as dependence on US exports of maize and wheat is set to increase, just as climate change makes drought in the US more likely. Even based on a conservative scenario, the research shows a drought of similar magnitude to the US drought in 1988 could raise the price of maize by as much as 140 per cent in 2030.

As global price increases are transmitted to local markets, they have devastating impacts for poor people, who may spend up to 75% of their income on food. Countries that rely on food imports are the worst affected by global price increases – such as Yemen, which today relies on imports for 90% of its wheat and where currently 10 million people are hungry and 267,000 children at risk of death from malnutrition.

The report also highlights how sub-Saharan Africa will be highly vulnerable to extreme weather shocks in the region. Drought and flooding of equivalent magnitude to that seen in Southern Africa in 1995 could see domestic prices surge by 120%. Such price rises have dramatic impacts on levels of consumption – in short, people go hungry.

Governments ‘stress-tested’ the banks after the financial crisis; our global food system is also too big to fail, and needs stress-testing to fully assess and address its critical thresholds in relation to climate change.

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6 Responses to “Extreme weather, extreme prices: Time for governments to ‘stress-test’ global food system”

  1. mememine

    Deny This You Climate Blame Fear Mongers:
    It’s been 26 years with millions of research papers on “effects”( rarely causes) of a climate crisis that “could” kill our children.
    Meanwhile, the entire world of SCIENCE, journalism and progressivism had allowed bank-funded and corporate-run “CARBON TRADING STOCK MARKETS” to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 26 years of insane attempts at climate CONTROL.

    Science has NEVER said any crisis “WILL” happen, only “could” happen and “might” happen and “possibly” happen etc. no matter how close to the brink of irreversible warming we get.
    If you WANT a President Romney, then just keep condemning my kids with a “death by climate change crisis”. Keep yappin girls and President Romney thanks you in advance.

    *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses.
    *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.

    *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.

    *Socialist Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a newly elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (death)

  2. Newsbot9

    Yes, yes, you keep pretending that an entire field of science is not picking the more lucrative path of being funded by big oil.

    It’s “could and might” because we might still stop it if we do something about it, which fanatics like you cannot allow. You keep tinfoil hatting (and you of course you deny evolution, since a significantly smaller proportion of biologists support evolution than climate scientists support AGCC…).

    And of course you’re vote rigging in America too.

  3. DaveAtherton20

    Tracy you mention the Yemen who have a population of 24 million. In 1960 is was 5m, 1990 12m, 2000 18m and today 24million. Would it be not better to send them contraceptives?

  4. Newsbot9

    Poor people need kids to look after them in their old age.
    Which is also why the UK population is going to soar.

    And to the op, no, the entire food delivery system is not critical to the 1%, using “too big to fail” with it is ridiculous. (As usual, food prices are rising FAR faster than the suggested rates, they’ve risen for essentials here in London by close to 20% just in the last year)

  5. the antimeme

    You should’t bother answering the meme. Like climate change, you see him everywhere. If he’s being paid per paste, he’s a wealthy man.

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