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Climate change: serious impacts for UK food system

03/02/17
Liz Barling
The Food Ethics Council argues that the UK Government can't afford to play Russian Roulette with climate change, in light of the UK Government's "optimistic" view on climate change and food security.
Climate change: serious impacts for UK food system

The Food Ethics Council urges the UK government to take co-ordinated action to secure our food system against the threat of climate change.

In July 2016 the UK’s Committee on Climate Change published its UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 Synthesis report: priorities for the next five years. It warned that “[the] greatest direct climate change-related threats for the UK are large increases in flood risk and exposure to high temperatures and heatwaves, shortages in water, substantial risks to UK wildlife and natural ecosystems, risks to domestic and international food production and trade, and from new and emerging pests and diseases”.

The Committee recommended that, because of a lack of co-ordinated national approach to ensure the resilience of the UK food system, urgent policy intervention is needed over the next five years to mitigate the risks and limit the impact of spikes in food prices.

In January 2017, six months later, the UK government responded to the report, asserting that it disagreed with the Committee’s view. Rather, the government suggests that the UK has no need to take urgent measures to protect our food system from climate change: “the resilience of food supply chains is regularly tested by severe weather and other events, and consistently performs well…The [CCC] evidence report’s recommendation that new policy is needed to manage risks to UK food prices therefore does not align with the findings from our own research.”

The Food Ethics Council disagrees with the government’s view.  Executive Director Dan Crossley said:

“The UK can’t afford to play Russian Roulette with climate change. If the independent sub-Committee on Climate Change Adaptation has put food security in its top six urgent risks, the government should heed that warning and take action, not just hope that everything will be OK. It should as a minimum justify why it feels confident in taking what it calls a  ‘more optimistic view of the levels of [UK food security] resilience’."

The UK sources much of its food from areas of the world already being hit hard by climate change. Our responsibility does not end at the UK’s borders. The UK government is at risk of underestimating how serious the impacts of climate change on our food system might be. The results of that miscalculation could be devastating for the viability of food and farming sectors, for the environment and for our citizens.