Environmental damage to hit commodity prices

14 February 2020

Environmental degradation including commodity shortages, droughts, flooding and rising food prices is likely to cost the global economy £8tn by 2050, according to a report.

The WWF's Global Futures report believes that continuing current rates of environmental degradation will result in costs of at least £368bn a year if no action is taken.

Impacts will include loss of natural coastal and flooding protection, disappearance of natural carbon storage sinks and steep commodity price rises.

Increases in global prices for key commodities such as timber, cotton, oil seeds, fruit and vegetables could lead to supply chain disruptions and reduced margins for companies.

The report used a methodology developed by the WWF, the Global Trade Analysis Project and the Natural Capital Project, which assesses the costs of a decline in natural assets across 140 countries.

The UK is set to suffer some of the biggest financial losses, suffering a hit of at least £16bn by 2050 – behind only the US and Japan.

In the UK loss of natural coastal protection, leading to flooding and erosion, and a global decline in fish stocks are likely to be the main factors behind the losses.

These add up to the country’s entire annual funding for police, fire, prison and court services.

The report expects developing nations to shoulder a disproportionate part of the global financial burden through water shortages and a decline in pollinators, which will affect agricultural production levels.

Eastern and Western Africa, Central Asia and parts of South America are likely to be especially hard hit by such factors.

By 2050 the loss of natural coastal protection could cost up to £251bn worldwide.

Deforestation and environmental degradation could lead to the loss of forests and peat bogs, which naturally store carbon, costing £98bn a year. Impacts on water supply for agriculture could cost £14bn.

Several key global commodities could see important price rises by 2050, with timber rising by 8%, cotton by 6%, oil seeds by 4% and fruit and vegetables by 3%.

However careful management of land and sea resources could mitigate these losses and actually cause global GDP to increase by around £9bn a year.

“We need urgent, global leadership and immediate action to change the way we use land, to invest in the restoration of nature, to cut emissions and critically to stop destroying forests for food production,” said Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF.

“This needs to be backed in the UK with bold policies to cut our global footprint and future trade deals that clearly reject deforestation and other poor agricultural practices.”

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