Food prices in the UK are set to skyrocket this year due to the combined effects of climate change and the rising costs of oil and gas, according to a recent study conducted by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. The research reveals that the average household in the UK will have to spend an additional £407 on their food bill, with £170 attributed to climate change and £236 to the increased prices of oil and gas.
The surge in gas prices has led to a domino effect, causing the prices of fertilizers for farmers and energy throughout the entire food supply chain to skyrocket. Extreme weather events, which are already influenced by climate change, are further exacerbating the problem, putting the country’s food supplies at risk and making them even more expensive.
The study, titled “Climate, Fossil Fuels and UK Food Prices,” was conducted by researchers from the universities of Bournemouth, Exeter, and Sheffield. By analyzing the rising prices of fossil fuels and the increase in global temperatures compared to a baseline period from 1950-80, the researchers were able to calculate the impact of these factors on food prices.
This year, the UK experienced an unprecedented heatwave, which was made ten times more likely due to climate change. The accompanying drought, which was also influenced by climate change, has resulted in a potential 50% decrease in potato harvests. Western Europe has faced similar challenges, with the drought becoming at least 20 times more likely due to climate change, affecting crops in various countries. Moreover, Pakistan, the UK’s second-largest exporter of rice after India, has been hit by catastrophic flooding, which could have dire consequences for its harvests.
Matt Williams, the Climate and Land Program Lead at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, emphasizes the impact of these rising costs on households, stating, “Imagine taking six trolleys of weekly shops through the checkout. That’s how much extra households are paying for food this year due to gas prices and climate change.” The pressure is not only felt by families but also by the farmers who grow our food. Droughts and the high cost of gas-derived fertilizers are challenging the resilience of farming. Protecting soil, planting trees and hedgerows to combat extreme rainfall, and transitioning to low-carbon fertilizers are essential if we want to ensure a more resilient farming industry and safeguard our food security.
Recognizing the urgent need for action, the government has committed to a new subsidy scheme, Environmental Land Management, which aims to support farmers in restoring the natural health of their soils and reduce their reliance on chemical fertilizers. These fertilizers currently cost farmers an additional £1.1 billion due to their dependence on expensive gas. The new system will also reward environmental measures such as incorporating more trees into food production. Trees and hedges play a crucial role in slowing down water flow, preventing flooding, and providing shade for livestock as the climate continues to warm.
Honorary Professor Wyn Morgan from the University of Sheffield, one of the report’s authors, emphasizes the importance of tackling climate change and its impact on the UK’s food system. He states, “The analysis underpins how the UK food system as a whole is exposed to global climate change and events on world markets and points to the importance of action to promote a more resilient food and agricultural sector in the UK.”
Nicky Amos, Public Affairs Chair of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, highlights the connection between climate change and rising food prices, stating, “Although it may not say climate change on the till receipt, it’s definitely showing up on our shopping bills.” She urges individuals to make sustainable choices, such as buying “wonky veg” to reduce waste, promote healthy eating, and cut down on shopping expenses. Amos also emphasizes the need for supermarkets to relax their standards on produce appearance and stock more imperfect fruits and vegetables to help combat food waste.
The study also draws attention to the health inequalities exacerbated by rising food prices. Emeritus Professor Simon Capewell from the University of Liverpool warns that these increases will particularly affect low-income families, further widening health inequalities and burdening the healthcare system, workforce, and economy. The report emphasizes the importance of government policies that address poverty and mitigate its impact.
Sabine Goodwin, Coordinator of the Independent Food Aid Network, highlights the challenges faced by charitable food aid providers, who are struggling to meet the rising demand caused by soaring food prices. Goodwin urges the government to address the root causes of these price increases and adopt a cash-first approach to tackle growing food insecurity.
Dr. Jim Scown, Programme Co-Lead for Farming Transition at the Food, Farming, and Countryside Commission, emphasizes the fragility of a global food system reliant on fossil fuels. He highlights the need for a transition towards an agroecological food system that supports fair and regenerative practices, enabling farmers to produce abundant, healthy food while positively impacting climate and nature. Such a system would enhance food security for households and the nation while helping landscapes and communities adapt to climate change.
Professor Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, emphasizes that climate change is not just a distant threat but has a tangible impact on our daily lives. She stresses the importance of understanding the full range of factors that influence food prices to effectively address the challenges they pose.
Darren Baxter, Senior Policy Advisor at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, emphasizes the hardships faced by families on low incomes due to rising food prices and the impact on their ability to afford essential items. Baxter underscores the need for the government to strengthen the social security system and take steps to limit the effects of climate change and rising food prices on UK food production.
Overall, this research highlights the critical role that climate change and the rising costs of oil and gas play in driving up food prices. It calls for urgent action to address these challenges, including investing in sustainable farming practices, supporting farmers in transitioning to low-carbon alternatives, and promoting more resilient and environmentally friendly food systems.