Food climate risk requires ‘urgent’ action

Future food supplies are at risk due to climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks, the UK government has been warned.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said this week that action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a warming planet and increasing climate risks facing the UK.

It said food supplies are also vulnerable to future risks to crops and livestock and commercial trees from multiple climate hazards including heat stress, drought risk, waterlogging, flooding, fire, pests, diseases and invasive non-native species.

The committee made the warnings in its latest independent assessment of UK climate risk. It warned the UK has the capacity and the resources to respond effectively to these risks, but has not yet done so. It said acting now would be cheaper than waiting to deal with the consequences, adding that government must lead that action.

Threats to food supply chains, crops and livestock are among eight risk areas the CCC said require the most urgent attention in the next two years. Others include risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought, and multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas.

The UK is experiencing widespread changes in the climate; average land temperature has risen by around 1.2°C from pre-industrial levels, UK sea levels have risen by 16cm since 1900 and episodes of extreme heat are becoming more frequent.

The committee noted there are strong benefits from taking effective adaptation action and identified a range of steps that will have benefits in the next five years if implemented on a wide scale. These include building design and retrofit, habitat creation and improved access to information on climate impacts.

“The severity of the risks we face must not be underestimated,” said Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee. “These risks will not disappear as the world moves to net zero; many of them are already locked in. By better understanding and preparing for the coming changes, the UK can prosper, protecting its people, its economy, and its natural environment. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”

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