Dispelling the myths about Europe and climate change

by Céline Charveriat, Oxfam’s Director of Advocacy and Campaigns

The devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan, which has seen an estimated 10,000 killed and affected up to 9.7 million people, has brought climate change firmly back on the agenda. The shocking event has left many Europeans calling for quick, effective relief efforts, but, despite this, many probably believe that climate change will have little impact on Europe and that the ‘worst-case scenario’ will bypass the region.
Think again. A recent paper produced by the Climate Action Network highlights the impacts of climate change on Europe, of which Oxfam is focusing on the food and agriculture aspect of the report. With projected agricultural outputs expected to decrease 2% each decade for the next century in a world where food demand is set to increase by 14% in the same period, it is time for climate impacts on food security – inside and outside Europe – to be brought onto the agenda.
As temperatures increase across Europe, agriculture – which represents 3.5% of the EU-28’s GDP and employs 17 million people – will be one of the hardest hit sectors. Rather than increase yields, climate change will create an increasingly insecure sector as weather becomes more unpredictable. Heat waves, similar to those in 2003 which saw crop yields decrease by up to 36% in some areas and a regional cost of around €13 billion, are expected to become more common. Scientists also predict that, with the warmer summers, pests more prevalent to African countries could migrate further north; some of which are responsible for the loss of up to 16% of crops during production.
For Europe, however, the greatest impact from climate change comes from outside the Union rather than within it. With imports of food reaching an all-time high of €102 billion, we are ever-reliant on the outside world for food, most of which (up to 72%) comes from the developing world and areas that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Even the food we produce within Europe is reliant on the global south; they produce 70% of our animal feed. With climate change already constraining agricultural output, while demand continues to rise, food price spikes are inevitable.
For many people in Europe, this means making some very difficult decisions about spending priorities. This is particularly resonant in Eastern Europe, where the bottom fifth of people spend around half of their income on food, meaning volatile food prices will have a significant impact. This will only exacerbate the increasing poverty and inequality across Europe caused by current austerity measures, something we reported on earlier this year.
European food companies also stand to be impacted through their global supply chains; in South and South East Asia – where global rice supplies are concentrated – flooding already costs an estimated $1 billion in yield losses per year. Through Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, we will be calling on the top ten food companies to step up their climate action, use their political muscle, including in Europe and contribute to the transition to a low carbon society we need to see.
As world leaders were spotted trying to sell inedible fruit and veg from a Warsaw market stall last Monday, and as national and international food security, instead of energy security, becomes more central in world leaders’ minds, we could, perhaps, finally start to see some progress at the UN climate negotiations.

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