Britain at risk of dramatic food crisis due to rising global greenhouse gas emissions, Manchester scientists claim

By Dean Wilkins

Britain is at risk of having food choices dramatically reduced unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut warns a new University of Manchester report.

The Sustainable Consumption Institute research found foods that families take for granted, such as meat and fresh vegetables, could end up too expensive if global temparatures rise the expected 4⁰C in the next 50 years.

Global farming emissions resulting from energy-intensive produced foods will continue to rise by meeting the demand of basic living standards across the world.

And the report warns that harmful effectives can only be minimised by reducing consumption of energy, food, goods and services.

Dr Alice Bows, leader of the university’s study, said: “The failure of the global community to turn rhetoric into reality and put meaningful policies in place to urgently cut emissions means that we are facing future temperature increases around 4°C which will be devastating to agriculture and fundamentally alter food provision.

“If policymakers and scientists continue to take the complacent and precarious position that a 2°C rise will be avoided, without taking necessary measures to cut emissions, we will have seriously misled those adapting to climate change.

“The consequence of which will most acutely affect the vulnerable in society.

“In countries like the UK, policymakers have focused so much on the CO2 emissions linked to energy, that agriculture and food has been overlooked. This report shows that agricultural emissions will be more challenging to cut, placing even greater pressure on the energy sector to decarbonise.“

“Much more emphasis needs to be placed on policies to cut agricultural emissions for there to be any reasonable chance of avoiding a 2°C temperature rise.

“It is absolutely essential scientists and decision makers see the bigger picture. Climate change will likely raise the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

“If Governments like the UK’s want to take action to avoid a 2°C temperature rise, they must reassess their targets to both take account of climate change impacts, and secondly, better understand how UK consumption is linked to the emissions right down global supply chains”.

If the temperature rises above 2⁰C, families could see most meats soar in price, meaning they will have to adapt to meat-free diets.

Across the world where non-carbon emissions produced by agriculture make up around a quarter of total emissions – compared to the UK’s 10% – figures are even more worrying.

Rice crops could be reduced by nearly 30% which would result in potential food shortages and hunger.

The researchers calculated the emissions of all goods consumed in the UK, including foods produced overseas but eaten here, in the two-year study.

Many climate experts believe a slight rise in UK temperatures would be beneficial for the farming industry as yields could increase.

Commenting on the report, Peter Baker, Senior Scientist at non-profit organisation CABI, said: “The authors have vigorously engaged with a wide range of people – it was intriguing to be one of them – as they strived to create some unnerving narratives.

A dip into the report should start you thinking the future won’t be quite like any of the presented scenarios – so where are we going, what will it be like, and why?”

Louise Neville, Sustainability Officer from Quorn Foods, added: “This report is impressive, as it has the potential to provoke a much needed wake up call to Government, industry and consumers alike – all whilst remaining clear and accessible.

“There is much talk as to the serious challenges to be faced due to climate change but this report succinctly lays out the repercussions in real terms – along with potential ways in which to respond.

“Put simply – our consumption patterns need to become more sustainable. This is a challenge that the food industry can and should play a key leading role in. Regardless, the findings of the report are an essential insight for business.”

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