- The global food system is vulnerable to production shocks caused by extreme weather, and this risk is growing – the risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by mid-century
- The interactions between the global food system and global weather are highly complex, the impacts of any particular weather event varying according to its location, timing and overall context
- Increasing reliance on global trade can create structural vulnerability in the food system, market and government responses having the potential to amplify the effects of production shocks through global food markets
- There is a need to increase understanding of risks via research into extreme weather, global interconnectedness and the probability of multiple breadbasket failures
- There is a need to give greater consideration to potential tipping points, or non-linear step-changes, in food systems as part of risk management
- More research is needed to better understand environmental tipping points and their potential impact on food system dynamics, the interaction between environmental tipping points and socio-economic systems, and ways to improve forecasting.
While there has been a wealth of research to better understand how the average global climate is changing, we have far less of an understanding of how the extremes of different weather variables – such as temperature and rainfall – may change. Equally, relatively little attention is given to environmental tipping points and the need to include any such potential step-changes in ecosystem services as part of food systems risk management.
When considering resilience of the food system, the potential for climatic shocks such as extreme weather events or environmental tipping points are just as important as average changes in climate; for example, harsher heatwaves and cold snaps, more severe floods and droughts (ref 1), or more permanent step-changes in biophysical systems that alter the provision of environmental goods and services. These events have significant potential to negatively impact food production, disturbing food supply chains both locally to the shock and at a global level should a major production region – or global “breadbasket” – be affected (ref 2). In these cases, the associated drop in production can trigger rapid increases in global food prices, having serious consequences for global food security – increasing household food expenditure, reducing access to sufficient good quality food in poor communities, and even triggering civil unrest in areas with fragile governance. Therefore, finding ways to rise to the challenge of producing food for nine billion people by 2050 in an increasingly unpredictable climate is a key global priority.
- A decade of weather extremes (Nature Climate Change, Volume 2, p491–496, 2012).
- Extreme weather and resilience of the global food system (GFS, 2015).