A new report envisions a nightmare scenario in which just three climate change-driven disasters could lead to global food shock, resulting in food riots as the price of basic crops skyrockets and stock markets experience significant losses. The risk assessment, which was produced by insurer Lloyd’s of London—with support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and vetted by academics from a number of institutions—shows just how close humanity may be to catastrophic collapse by mid-century unless significant changes are made to slow global warming.
The scenario posited in the report looks at what would happen if there were three simultaneous disasters; specifically a heat wave in South America, an explosion of windblown wheat stern rust pathogen across Russia and a particularly strong El Niño southern oscillation cycle—all perfectly plausible events given current climate trends. The impact of this would be enough to cripple global food security.
Specifically, the model estimates that this would cause wheat, soybean and maize prices to quadruple, with rice prices increasing by 500 percent on 2007/08 levels, as wheat and rice production declines by 7 percent, maize production falls by 10 percent and soybean production by 11 percent. Food scarcity would cause riots to break out in Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East, and the EU stock market would fall by 10 percent, while the US markets would fall by 5 percent, creating significant global instability and political unrest. A model created by Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute in light of the report finds that “In this scenario, global society essentially collapses [in 2040] as food production falls permanently short of consumption.”
But this scenario is based on a “business as usual” approach, one in which man-made climate change leads to a combination of increased flooding and increased drought, with agriculture facing the prospect of functioning under water stress conditions as soon as 2025. However, if carbon emissions are slashed and agriculture adapts, this scenario does not have to play out.