Government ignores climate change guidance on food security

24 January 2017

The government has disregarded advice on managing the risk of climate change-related weather shocks on international food supply chains.

While recognising that climate change poses a “significant risk to the availability and supply of food in the UK”, in its latest climate change risk assessment the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it was optimistic about the country’s food security.

It said policy intervention reccomended by the Committee on Climate Change – a statutory body created to advise government on emissions and climate change – “does not align with the findings of our own research”.

“The resilience of food supply chains is regularly tested by severe weather and other events, and consistently performs well… The government takes a more optimistic view of the levels of resilience that are achieved through functioning markets and diverse sources of supply”, the report said.

DEFRA’s risk assessment was based an interim evidence report published by the CCC outlining actions it deemed urgent to mitigate the risk of climate change.

CCC's wide-ranging report, which covered a range of topics including temperature, flood risk and emerging diseases, said the government was not doing enough to mitigate the impact of weather-related shocks on global food production, and should adopt a more coordinated approach across policy, industry and research.

It also said changing rainfall patterns pose a risk to the aridity of soil domestically that needed to be addressed.

DEFRA said although it agreed with CCC’s assessment “in general”, it did not endorse some of its conclusions on food security.

In DEFRA’s own risk assessment, it said the supply of food was still listed as one of the country’s critical national infrastructure sectors, and that the government was working closely with industry to ensure “the security and resilience of supply”. 

“UK food security is built on access to a wide variety of markets, including through a rule-based world trading system,” it said.

DEFRA’s report also agreed with CCC’s recommendation that food production and security should be a research priority. “The government has already carried out research into the risks to food supply from extreme weather events, including the potential impacts of tidal flooding on supply chains through seaports and the energy dependency of food chains,” it said. 

Last week saw a shortage of courgettes in the UK as poor weather conditions in Spain affected supply. Mintec, a commodities database, said that although courgette prices tend to increase in the winter, by mid January their prices had soared to more than 36% against the five-year seasonal average.

As part of the Climate Change Act 2008, CCC publishes a full risk assessment every five years, and is expected to be published its next later this month.

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