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Climate change behind British food price rises?

31 March 2014

British food price rises could be looming as a result of climate change, according to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report adds that worldwide food shortages and poverty will increase the risk of war and the extinction of some species.

Chris Field, co-chair of the IPCC working group warns that warming by 4C (7.2F) from pre-industrial levels will lead to a ‘fundamentally different’ world from today. However, limiting warming to 2C (3.6F) by cutting emissions will result in a world ‘not dramatically different’ from today.

“With high levels of warming that result from continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions, risks will be challenging to manage, and even serious, sustained investments in adaptation will face limits,” he said.

Ed Davey, Britain's energy and climate change secretary, said the report showed that “left unchecked, climate change will have far reaching consequences for our society” and vindicated the government’s drive to go green.

“This evidence builds the case for early action in the UK and around the world to lessen the risks posed by climate change,” he said. “We cannot afford to wait.”

The IPCC’s report into ‘Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ brings together the work of hundreds of climate scientists worldwide.

It concludes the impacts of climate change are already evident yet many parts of the world are “ill-prepared for the risks” it brings.

“Investments in better preparation can pay dividends for both the present and the future,” Vicente Barros, co-chair of the working group, said.

Britain is relatively well-placed to be able to adapt to climate change but needs to take action to do so, authors of the report said ahead of its formal launch in Japan.

“The sea level is rising, so we know that the risk of flooding on the coastal zone is going to increase,” Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading Walker Institute, said.

“We know temperatures are rising, so we know the risk of heatwaves and prolonged hot spells are going to increase, and we know the implications of those in our cities and for crop production.

"We strongly suspect climate change will impact on the reliability of our water supply systems. And we very strongly suspect that climate change will make flooding along our rivers and in our small catchments more frequent.”

Climate change is also likely to hit crop production globally, resulting in ‘instability and volatility of global food prices’, Neil Adger of the University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environment Sciences said.

“Britain is not immune from the global trends in the way global agricultural markets are set up.”

Cities are likely to be particularly badly affected by climate change because the dense population exacerbates other risks, and elderly people are likely to be particularly affected by heatwaves.

“In Britain we not very good at adapting to heatwaves. People who are vulnerable to heatwaves are physiologically vulnerable to them. They often affect the elderly,” he said, describing current plans to help elderly cope with extreme heat as ‘not very effective’.

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