Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system

Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system

Global Food Security (GFS) SYNTHESIS REPORT, 2015, 20 pages

A Taskforce of academics, industry and policy experts was commissioned to examine the resilience of the global food system to extreme weather.

The report, which was sponsored by Britain’s Global Food Security program and was jointly commissioned by the UK Science and Innovation Network and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, notes that agriculture faces a triple challenge.

  1. The report states that increases in productivity, sustainability and resilience to climate change are required, 
  2. acknowledging that the effort will require significant investment from the public and private sectors, 
  3. as well as new cross-sector collaborations between scientists, agriculture, water and environmental specialists, technology providers, policymakers and civil engineers among others.

From a climatological perspective, two years stand out in recent years for being very high impact: 1988/9 where maize and soybean was seriously affected by drought in the US mid-West, and 2002/3 when rice and wheat were affected in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Our plausible worst case scenario was built around both these events happening together. Given this potential for a food production shock, we then catalogued how different stakeholders in industry and different countries might respond. From this, we could flesh out a scenario of production shocks and market and policy responses. This was then used to stimulate thinking about how the responses would lead to impacts on people through changing prices and availability of food. Tim Benton, Global Food Security programme

The report is built on three detailed reports
It presents evidence that the global food system is vulnerable to production shocks caused by extreme weather, and that this risk is growing. 

  • Although much more work needs to be done to reduce uncertainty, preliminary analysis of limited existing data suggests that the risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by 2040. 
  • Additionally, recent studies suggest that our reliance on increasing volumes of global trade, whilst having many benefits, also creates structural vulnerability via a liability to amplify production shocks in some circumstances. 

Action is therefore needed to improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks, to mitigate their impact on people. The contents of these reports are based upon workshop discussions held at Willis Tower, Chicago in October 2014 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London in February 2015


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