Food price spikes will get worse as extreme weather linked to climate change devastates food production: Oxfam

GROW, Media Releases, News article written on the 05 Sep 2012

New research shows that the full impact of climate change on future food prices is being underestimated, according to international agency Oxfam.

Oxfam’s new report, Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, highlights for the first time how extreme weather events such as droughts and floods could drive up future food prices. Previous research only tends to consider gradual impacts, such as increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns.

Oxfam’s research seeks to go beyond this to look at the impact of extreme weather scenarios on food prices in 2030. The research warns that by that year, the world could be even more vulnerable to events like the devastating US drought currently causing dramatic rises in the global food prices, with dependence on US exports of wheat and corn predicted to rise further and climate change increasing the likelihood of even more extreme droughts in North America.

The research also finds that even under a conservative scenario, another US drought in 2030 could raise the price of corn by as much as 140 per cent over and above the average price of food in 2030, which is already likely to be double today’s prices.

Oxfam Australia’s food prices expert James Ensor said such price spikes would be a massive blow to the world’s poorest, who currently spent up to 75 per cent of their income on food.

“Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns hold back crop production and cause steady price rises,” Mr Ensor said.  “But extreme weather events – like the current US drought – can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes.

“Australians are concerned about high food prices at the supermarket, and are well aware of the impact of extreme weather such as droughts or floods on food prices.  We will all feel the impact as prices spike, but the world’s poorest people will be hit hardest.

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

“As emissions continue to soar, extreme weather in the US and elsewhere provides a glimpse of our future food system in a warming world.  Our planet is heading for average global warming of 2.5–5°C this century. It is time to face up to what this means for hunger and malnutrition for millions of people on our planet.

“Governments also must act now to slash rising greenhouse gas emissions and reverse decades of under-investment in small-scale agriculture in poor countries.  The Australian Government should sign on to the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, as a major stepping stone towards a global agreement to reduce emissions.

Mr Ensor welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of $58 million to help Pacific nations prepare for natural disasters and extreme weather conditions.  He said the Government should continue to increase funding for such initiatives and work with the international community to mobilise the sums of money needed to help countries adapt to a changing climate in the decades ahead.

The report comes as UN climate change negotiations close in Bangkok today, while tomorrow the Food and Agriculture Organisation is due to publish further information on how the worst US drought in 60 years is impacting on global food prices.

Download the report.

For further information please contact Laurelle Keough on 0425 701 801