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Report: Extreme weather poses risk of more food shortages, civil unrest

Chris Arsenault/Reuters TORONTO - Global food shortages will become three times more likely as a result of climate change and the international community needs to be ready to respond to price shocks to prevent civil unrest, a joint U.S.-British t...

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People play while cooling off in a public fountain as temperatures soar to around 104 degrees July 13 in central Madrid, Spain. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Chris Arsenault/Reuters

TORONTO - Global food shortages will become three times more likely as a result of climate change and the international community needs to be ready to respond to price shocks to prevent civil unrest, a joint U.S.-British taskforce warned on Friday.

Rather than being a once-a-century event, severe production shocks, including food shortages, price spikes and market volatility, are likely to occur every 30 years by 2040, said the Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience.

With the world's population set to rise to 9 billion by 2050 from 7.3 billion today, food production will need to increase by more than 60 percent and climate-linked market disruptions could lead to civil unrest, the report said.

"The climate is changing and weather records are being broken all the time," said David King, the UKforeign minister's Special Representative for Climate Change, in the report.

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"The risks of an event are growing, and it could be unprecedented in scale and extent."

Globalization and new technologies have made the world's food system more efficient but it has also become less resilient to risks, said King.

Some of the major risks include a rapid rise in oil prices fuelling food costs, reduced export capacity inBrazil, the United States or the Black Sea region due to infrastructure weakness, and the possible depreciation of the U.S. dollar causing prices for dollar-listed commodities to spike.

Global food production is likely to be most impacted by extreme weather events in North and South America and Asia which produce most of the world's four major crops - maize, soybean, wheat and rice.

But such shocks in production or price hikes are likely to hit some of the world's poorest nations hardest such as import dependent countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

"In fragile political contexts where household food insecurity is high, civil unrest might spill over into violence or conflict," the report said.

"The Middle East and North Africa region is of particular systemic concern, given its exposure to international price volatility and risk of instability, its vulnerability to import disruption and the potential for interruption of energy exports."

To ease the pain of increasingly likely shocks, the report urged countries not to impose export restrictions in the event of wild weather, as Russia did following a poor harvest in 2010.

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The researchers said agriculture itself needs to change to respond to global warming as international demand is already growing faster than agricultural yields and climate change will put further pressure on production.

"Increases in productivity, sustainability and resilience to climate change are required. This will require significant investment from the public and private sectors, as well as new cross-sector collaborations," the report said. 

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