This primer explains the current situation concerning the United Kingdom’s food supply and how this is likely to change in the medium and long term as a result of climate change. It discusses likely threats to UK food security emerging from a range of potential warming scenarios and the current policy debate on how to address them effectively.
Acute food insecurity has been in the news as the UK heads towards a post-EU rupture with the European Common Market but there is also a chronic threat to UK food security posed by climate change and disruption. The most prominent discussions concerning the potential security implications of a changing climate tend to focus on its potential to exacerbate international conflict (its role as a threat multiplier), the challenges it poses to international development efforts, and the ways in which it could limit or complicate military operations.
The direct threat climate change poses to the UK itself has not received enough attention, nor the domestic threat to the UK of climatic impacts on international supply chains, upon which it is highly dependent. This is doubly perverse. On the one hand, in terms of evidence, academic analysis of how a warming world will affect fragile, interconnected and interdependent human systems becomes more sure-footed and confident as it “zooms in” from the global level to smaller regional and sub-regional units of analysis. On the other, from the standpoint of UK national security planners, direct impacts on the home islands and British citizens are of paramount importance.
- Currently 50% by value of all food consumed in the UK is imported. 60% of this is from the EU, with a heavy concentration on suppliers in Spain and the Netherlands.
- Securing greater diversity of international suppliers has been identified as a priority by the UK Government, particularly in the context of Brexit.
- UK food supply chains currently have limited direct exposure to the closure of global supply choke-points; however, this may change should the pursuit of diversification of imports away from western European suppliers succeed.
- Regardless, the UK is as exposed as the rest of the world to food price volatility and potential long-term food price inflation. A changing climate is likely to reduce the amount of arable land available in the UK and make international disruptions more likely.
- The UK Government has rejected the advice of the Independent Committee on Climate Change to adopt more proactive measures to manage food price volatility, choosing to pursue this policy goal through diplomacy within the G-20.
- There is a geopolitical dimension to the intergovernmental management of food supplies in a context of global food scarcity. Developing world food exporters, including within the G20, that have contributed relatively little to climate change may be less inclined to cooperate with the UK.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Scanlan is a Research Fellow at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) where he lectures in Sustainable Development. He is a Fellow of ORG’s Sustainable Security Programme and a member of the UN Environment Programme’s Science Policy Platform.
[This description originally appeared in oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk]
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