Are extreme climate events threatening Europe’s food security?

ekstremalne zjawiska klimatyczne

So far, food security problems have mainly affected third-world countries, but now – due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events – they are also affecting Europe. According to the latest report: European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA), the risks of heat and drought have reached critical levels for crop production and could have catastrophic consequences if urgent action is not taken to reduce them.

Extreme climatic phenomena

Climate extremes in Europe are not surprising and are occurring with increasing frequency. In 2023 Water Matters, we have described several times the negative effects of extreme climatic events occurring in Europe Drought in Europe – when the lack of rain begins to take its toll or Flooding in Germany – a threat still present. These phenomena are expected to increase, according to a report prepared by the EEA. The prepared assessment identified 36 major climate risks for Europe. They are divided into five general clusters: ecosystems, food, health, infrastructure, and economy and finance. More than half require further action, and eight are particularly urgent.

Some regions in Europe are at greater risk of extreme weather events than others. Southern Europe is haunted by hot weather. The occurrence of extremely high temperatures is associated with water shortages and fires, and is also a threat to food security and human health. Instead, flooding, coastal erosion and seawater intrusion threaten Europe’s coastal regions, including many densely populated cities.

Climate extremes and Europe’s food security

Major food security risks include:

  • crop failures and reduced yields due to prolonged drought and heat – the situation in individual regions is determined by the frequency of extreme events, hydrological conditions and the state of irrigation infrastructure;
  • Droughts, which, affecting large areas for long periods of time, have a negative impact on crop production, drinking water supply or energy production;
  • meteorological events such as late frosts and heavy rains, as well as current and new pests and diseases.

Extreme climatic events can also cause disruptions in the food supply chain and thus lead to shortages or price increases for certain products. According to the report, some households, particularly those with low incomes, may find it difficult to access good-quality, affordable food in the future.

Detailed information on how agricultural commodity and food prices are evolving can be found, among other places. On the European Commission website. The tables, which are compiled monthly, provide a monthly summary of the prices of the most representative agricultural and food products for EU and global consumers.

How do we reduce food safety risks?

In order to reduce climate risks related to food security, European climate policies and current adaptation measures should be revised first and foremost. One of the practices aimed at mitigating climate risks related to food security are initiatives implemented under the strategic plans of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Their analysis indicates that they still have ample opportunities to implement measures to protect against extreme climate events such as drought.

Europe’s transition to more climate-resilient and sustainable food systems requires action at many levels, from farms to national and EU policies. EU action has a key role to play in supporting and accelerating this transformation.

Changes in production and nutrition and targeted social policies are other measures to ensure food security in a changing climate. A partial shift away from animal-based proteins to sustainably grown plant-based proteins is being touted as one of the proposed solutions to improve food security. This would reduce water consumption in agriculture and reduce dependence on imported feed.

Conclusions of the EUCRA report

According to the conclusions presented in the prepared report, the EU and member states have a better understanding of the climate risks they face and are preparing for them more effectively. However, this is not enough, as legislative action has not kept pace with the rapid increase in risk levels. It also stressed that the EU and member states share responsibility for most of the major climate risks identified in the report. So in order to counter them effectively, they must work together, also involving the regional and local levels to implement coordinated actions. The EU can play a key role in improving understanding of the mechanisms by which climate risks operate and identify ways to deal with them through legislation, appropriate governance structures, monitoring, funding and technical support, the report said.

European Climate Risk Assessment (EUCRA)

The EUCRA report prepared by the EEA builds on the existing knowledge base on climate impacts and risks to Europe, including the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The European Commission’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Copernicus Climate Change Program Services (C3S) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC). The results of EU-funded R&D projects and national climate risk assessments are also helpful. This is the first assessment of its kind to synthesize knowledge to support strategic policymaking.

Photo. main: Monika Zabrzeńska-Chaterera

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