International dimensions

Climate change will impact populations, economies and livelihoods around the world. An increase in extreme weather impacts can be expected to cause widespread loss of life and severe humanitarian crises. Increasing pressure will be placed on scarce natural resources, patterns of agricultural production will change and be disrupted, and when combined with other factors this could cause individual states to fail.

Impacts will be imported to the UK through the price and safety of food and other commodities, changes in the patterns of trade, disruption to global supply chains, and risks to overseas investments:

  • Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of weather extremes, disproportionately affecting low income populations. The UK is likely to be called upon to provide more resources for humanitarian assistance, and efforts to build state stability and long-term resilience could be undermined.
  • Extreme weather events can also cause production shocks and supply chain disturbance, with impacts on the world food market, to which UK prices are particularly sensitive.
  • UK business is also affected by these shocks. For example, the 2012 US drought contributed to increasing the price of soya which, in turn, led to some UK pig farmers being forced out of business.
  • Climate change will cause shifts in the global production of food. This could positively or negatively affect the price, availability and nutritional value of food in the UK. Research is needed to build a more complete understanding of these risks in order to inform policy.
  • When combined with other factors, weather-related events can cause people to migrate, mostly within or to neighbouring countries but it can also lead to movement further afield.
  • Geopolitical risks impact the UK by increasing demand for humanitarian assistance and affecting UK economic interests abroad.


Lead contributors: Andy Challinor (University of Leeds) and W. Neil Adger (University of Exeter)

Contributing authors: Matthew Baylis (University of Liverpool), Tim Benton (UK Global Food Security programme and University of Leeds), Declan Conway (London School of Economics and Political Science), Duncan Depledge (Royal United Services Institute), Andrew Geddes (University of Sheffield), Steve McCorriston (University of Exeter), Lindsay Stringer (University of Leeds)

Additional contributors: Laura Wellesley (Chatham House: the Royal Institute of International Affairs)

ASC contributor: Manuela Di Mauro

This chapter at a glance

Risks and opportunities

More action needed

At present there is no co-ordinated national approach to ensure the resilience of the UK food system. Coordinated approaches require broad participation across policy, industry and research.

Research priority

There is a gap in surveillance systems to monitor food safety at source and through complex international supply chains.

Research priority

The UK may increase its comparative advantage in specific areas of agricultural production in the future. Trends in global agricultural production and consumption need further monitoring and assessment.

More action needed

A more pro-active strategy to work in partnership with other countries is needed to provide rapid legal and basic assistance to migrants and to build long-term resilience in exposed regions. Otherwise overseas development efforts will increasingly be diverted to provide humanitarian (i.e. emergency) aid.

Research priority

Further evidence is needed to understand the appropriate balance between long-term development aid (resilience building, disaster risk reduction, state stability) and responsive interventions (peace-keeping, humanitarian aid).

Research priority

There is a lack of systematic monitoring and strategic planning to address the potential for breakdown in foreign national and international governance, and inter-state rivalry, caused by shortages in resources that are sensitive to climate change.

Watching brief

Potential changes in trade routes are already being assessed and the issue should continue to be monitored.