Rupert Read Warns Ilkley Audience of Severe Climate Change Impact on UK

Climate expert Rupert Read warns of devastating effects of climate change on UK food security, citing a 10% decline in self-sufficiency. The UK's wheat self-sufficiency is expected to plummet from 92% to 68%, making it dependent on foreign imports.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Rupert Read Warns Ilkley Audience of Severe Climate Change Impact on UK

Rupert Read Warns Ilkley Audience of Severe Climate Change Impact on UK

On May 9, 2024, climate expert Rupert Read delivered a stark warning to an audience in Ilkley about the devastating effects climate change will have on the UK's food security in the near future. Read's warning comes on the heels of a new analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) that projects the UK's ability to feed itself will decline by nearly 10% due to the impact of climate change on farming.

Why this matters: The decline in food security has far-reaching implications for the UK's economy, public health, and social stability. If left unchecked, climate change could lead to food shortages, price increases, and social unrest, ultimately threatening the country's overall well-being.

The study paints a grim picture for UK agriculture. The UK's self-sufficiency in food production is expected to decline from 86% to 78% this year. Wheat self-sufficiency, in particular, is estimated to plummet from 92% to 68%, making the UK dependent on foreign imports for around a third of its wheat. This reduction could see wheat imports rise from 1.9 million tonnes to a staggering 4.8 million tonnes. Oilseed rape self-sufficiency is also forecast to collapse to a historic low of 40%.

Tom Lancaster, land analyst at ECIU, emphasized the immediacy of the threat, stating, "In 2021, the Government warned that climate change was the biggest medium to long-term threat to our food security. This analysis suggests that it is the biggest risk now, not at some far-off point in the future." Lancaster also stressed the need for the UK to support farmers in other countries, as the nation depends on foreign imports for foods it cannot grow domestically.

The 18 months leading up to March 2024 were England's wettest since records began in 1836, with 445.8mm of rain falling within the season, 29% higher than the long-term average. This extreme weather has taken a heavy toll on agricultural production, with UK flour millers warning that the higher-grade milling wheat harvest could be down by as much as 40%, fueling concerns about the impact on the price of bread and other baked goods.

In response to the crisis, a Defra spokesperson stressed that food production, food security, and backing UK farmers are key priorities for the government. The government has protected over 900,000 acres of agricultural land from the impacts of flooding since 2015 and opened the Farming Recovery Fund, which provides grants of up to £25,000 to eligible farmers.

Climate change is also taking a significant toll on mental health globally, affecting farmers, youth, Indigenous people, and others. Experts from the Connecting Climate Minds network shared examples of climate change's harm to mental health in their regions, with farmers struggling with declining harvests, drought, and severe weather, leading to depression, hopelessness, and trauma. Young people are experiencing hopelessness and powerlessness due to climate change, with some feeling they have no choice but to migrate or enter the military.

Rupert Read's warning and the ECIU analysis underscore the urgent need for adaptation measures and community action to mitigate the effects of climate change on UK food security. As Tom Lancaster noted, "The only viable long-term plan for farming is getting to net zero emissions when we are no longer making the problem ever worse."

Key Takeaways

  • UK's food self-sufficiency to decline by 10% due to climate change.
  • Wheat self-sufficiency to plummet from 92% to 68%, relying on imports.
  • Extreme weather events, like flooding, affecting agricultural production.
  • Climate change impacting mental health, especially for farmers and youth.
  • Net zero emissions goal crucial for long-term farming sustainability.