Get Ready For Food Prices To Go Way Up, Thanks To Climate Change

CREDIT: Scott Olson / Getty Images


CREDIT: Scott Olson / Getty Images

Climate change will likely push food prices up 20 to 40 percent, regardless of cuts to future carbon emissions, new research in the journal Climatic Change concluded. Staple crops like rice, wheat, and grains — which make up the vast majority of global diets, especially for the poor — could see the biggest hits, with big costs for global economic welfare.

As The Carbon Brief reports, the researchers built their projections off of two different future scenarios provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The A1B scenario assumes greater technological and economic advances, less inequality, and a more diverse energy mix with lower carbon emissions. The A2 scenario assumes a more fragmented world in which local identities are better preserved, but technology and income distribution advance more slowly, and carbon emissions remain higher. The researchers also used a modeling system able to distinguish between rained and irrigated agriculture, and the consequences of changing water availability for the latter.

“By midcentury, staple foods like cereal grains, sugar cane and wheat are expected to be around 40 per cent more expensive than at present,” according to The Carbon Brief’s summation. And “fruit and vegetable prices are expected to rise 30 per cent by 2050, while the cost of rice is likely to be almost 20 per cent higher than today.”


CREDIT: The Carbon Brief / Climatic Change

The big hits to food production come from altered rainfall patterns and regional soil moisture due to climate change. That in turn changes agriculture and trade patterns for the worst, though the researchers did find crops relying on irrigation fared better than those relying on rain. But in the end, less production means less supply, which means higher prices. The ripple effects of that throughout the world’s economies were predicted to cut global welfare by $280 billion annually by 2050, regardless of which scenario is used.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization came to the same conclusion earlier this year, citing environmental pressure and extreme weather as major reasons for projected food price spikes, along with the increased demand of a growing population and the encroachment of biofuel use. Another report by Oxfam last year projected massive hikes in food prices by the 2030s due to increased droughts, floods, and such.

On the domestic front, America’s corn growers have already seen their bushel yields reduced by one billion in 2011 thanks to drought. In Texas specifically, the heat and lack of water has cut beef and rice production, and squashed the cotton industry by about 50 percent. It could be a prelude of more to come worldwide.