Severe climate events could cause shortages in the global beer supply and hike up beer prices, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA) and published in the Nature Plants journal.
The research warns that increasingly widespread droughts may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide, affecting the supply used to make beer, and ultimately resulting in “dramatic” falls in beer consumption.
In recent years, the beer sector has consumed around 17% of global barley production, but this share varies across major beer-producing countries, for example from 83% in Brazil to 9% in Australia.
Results from the new study reveal potential average yield losses ranging from 3% to 17%, depending on the severity of the conditions.
The findings suggest that total beer consumption decreases most under climate change in the countries that consumed the most beer by volume in recent years. For example, the volume consumed in China – today the largest consuming country – falls by more than any other country as the severity of extreme events increases.
In the UK, beer consumption could fall by between 0.37 billion and 1.33 billion litres, while the price “could as much as double”. Consumption in the US could decrease by between 1.08 billion and 3.48 billion litres.
Co-ordinator of the research and lead UK author Dabo Guan said: “Increasingly research has begun to project the impacts of climate change on world food production, focusing on staple crops such as wheat, maize, soybean, and rice.
“However, if adaptation efforts prioritise necessities, climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods to a greater extent than staple foods. People’s diet security is equally important to food security in many aspects of society.
“Although some attention has been paid to the potential impacts of climate change on luxury crops such as wine and coffee, the impacts on beer have not been carefully evaluated. A sufficient beer supply may help with the stability of entertainment and communication in society.”
He added: “While the effects on beer may seem modest in comparison to many of the other – some life-threatening – impacts of climate change, there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer.
“It may be argued that consuming less beer isn’t itself disastrous, and may even have health benefits. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury.”
The international study involved researchers from the UK, China, Mexico, and the US, who identified extreme climate events and modelled the impacts of these on barley yields in 34 world regions. They then examined the effects of the resulting barley supply shock on the supply and price of beer in each region under a range of future climate scenarios.
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