When we can no longer feed ourselves

Writing this in comfortable Surrey, England, where the unavailability of truffle-infused pesto on the shelves of local supermarkets causes mild panic, it seems somewhat ludicrous to talk about long-term food security.

However, as a publication concerned with the universe of emerging risks, food supply – or the possible lack thereof – is undoubtedly a major issue.

As we report this week, for example, and in further evidence of the wide-ranging consequences of global warming, a leading figure in the Australian government gave a stark warning over future agricultural output.

Australian crop yields could be 4% below current levels by 2063, reducing the country’s economic output by A$1.8 billion ($1.2 billion) a year, unless action is taken to mitigate the impact of climate change, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said.

The simple fact is , and as recent natural catastrophe events have demonstrated, global warming is leading to hotter and more extreme weather in Australia, one of the world’s largest exporters of agricultural products.

Australia is far from alone here. I recently went to an excellent conference on key emerging risks hosted by the University of Cambridge, and there academics were stark in their assessment of the impact that rising temperatures will have on global food supply.

As we reported at the time, the world’s supply of rice is set to decrease dramatically as result of climate change, according to Jack Spencer, senior climate risk modeller at Risilience.

Spencer was speaking as part of a plenary session on ‘Societal Transitions towards a Lower Carbon Economy’ at the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies 14th Risk Summit, Just Transitions: Transforming Business Towards a Sustainable Future.

He suggested that securing the security of food supply will be a major challenge as a result of global warming, given that many of the world’s most important agricultural regions will be those most severely affected by rising temperatures.

As such, he added, by 2050 we can expect to see a 70% reduction in the global output of rice; a 31% reduction in the global output of wheat; and a 4% reduction in the global output of maize.

Pretty stark figures, huh? When are we going to take this risk seriously, I wonder?

Marcus Alcock,

Editor, Emerging Risks