by Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, via The Center For Climate and Security
The national Drought Monitor recently declared [abnormally dry conditions or] a drought for almost 80% of the contiguous United States, ranging in intensity [up] to “drought-exceptional.”
Five days ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture followed by declaring disasters in 26 U.S. states. This is the largest national disaster area ever declared.
But while the drought is obviously a serious concern for the U.S. (historically, droughts are the nation’s most costly natural disaster), it also has worrying implications for other countries that are tied to the U.S. through the global food market. Coupled with other recent extreme weather events across the globe, the U.S. drought could have a globally destabilizing influence. And while it is too early to tell exactly why these events are happening, in the way that they are happening, recent reports show that climatic changes are a part of the story.
Record-breaking droughts, and an uncertain climate future
The conditions of this drought are abnormal. The drought happened suddenly - what is called a “flash drought” – because it has occurred over a matter of months, rather than seasons or years. It is associated with record-breaking temperatures, and has been labeled among the worst droughts in U.S. history.
Climate change projections are set to make matters worse. According to NOAA and the Met Office, last year’s drought in Texas was 20 times more likely because of climate change. Furthermore, as temperatures are set to continue increasing, these conditions will become more frequent.
Impact on the global food market
In lieu of the recent drought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture adjusted its prediction for corn yields, the country’s largest export crop, down by 12%. This, and any subsequent adjustments, will likely impact global corn prices, but also meat and dairy prices, as corn is used for animal feed. Meanwhile, beef prices are still high from last year’s drought in Texas.
As a leading exporter of corn and soy, the U.S. is intricately linked to the global food market. Drought and crop failure in the U.S. could spike world food prices and have serious implications for places like Mexico, China, Central America and India, who rely heavily on imports of these crops, as well as animal feed. But this is not the first time that droughts have caused a spike in world food prices. If this drought does lead to a price spike, it will be the fifth such spike in six years.
The security implications of food price spikes