The effect may have already been seen this year, the charity says. A 10% rise in world food prices in July has been blamed on the severest drought in the USA in 50 years, along with dry weather in Eastern Europe and Kenya. Oxfam warned that policymakers have “underestimated” the full impact of climate change on future food prices.
“The huge potential impact of extreme weather events of future food prices is missing from today’s climate change debate,” said the charity’s climate change policy advisor Tim Gore. “Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns hold back crop production and cause steady prices rises. But extreme weather events – like the current US drought – can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes.”
July was the USA’s hottest month on record, contributing to the warmest 12-month period for the country since records began. Widespread drought has destroyed one sixth of the country’s corn crop and driven up staple food prices worldwide.
Policymakers will wish to avoid a repeat of the food crisis of 2008, in which the rising cost of grain, maize, rice and soya led to social unrest and riots in many parts of Africa, South America and Asia. New UN task forces were set up in the wake of the 2008 crisis to co-ordinate the trade, production and aid policies of the world’s governments in the event of another price spike.
In a joint statement, three UN food agencies called on governments to take long term steps such as investing in agriculture in food importing countries, to safeguard them against future price shocks.
The statement from the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said that weather had been the driver of each three international food spikes in the past five years.
“Until we find the way to shock-proof and climate-proof our food system, the danger will remain,” the statement said.