Scarce food, water, energy will bring global mayhem by 2030, says scientist


A “PERFECT STORM” of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee the worst-affected regions, the British government’s chief scientist will warn at a conference today.

World upheavals will come to a head in 2030, Prof John Beddington will tell environmental groups and politicians at the government’s Sustainable Development UK conference in Westminster. The growing population and success in alleviating poverty in developing countries will trigger a surge in demand for food, water and energy over the next two decades, at a time when governments must also make major progress in combating climate change.

“We head into a perfect storm in 2030, because all of these things are operating on the same timeframe,” said Prof Beddington. “If we don’t address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move out to avoid food and water shortages.”

Food prices for staple crops such as wheat and maize have recently settled after a sharp rise last year, when production failed to keep up with demand. But, according to Prof Beddington, global food reserves are so low – at 14 per cent of annual consumption – a long drought or big flood could see prices rapidly escalate again. Most of the food reserve is grain in transit, he said.

“Our food reserves are at a 50-year low but, by 2030, we need to be producing 50 per cent more food. At the same time, we will need 50 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more fresh water. There are dramatic problems out there, particularly with water and food, but energy also, and they are all intimately connected. You can’t think about dealing with one without considering the others.”

Before taking over from Sir David King as chief scientist last year, Prof Beddington was professor of applied population biology at Imperial College London. He is an expert on the sustainable use of renewable resources.

In Britain, a global food shortage would drive up import costs and make food more expensive. Some parts of the country are predicted to become less able to grow crops as higher temperatures become the norm. Most climate models suggest the south-east of England will be especially vulnerable to water shortages, particularly in the summer.

Prof Beddington’s speech will add to pressure on governments after last week’s climate change conference in Copenhagen, where scientists warned that the impact of global warming has been substantially underestimated by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The latest research suggests that sea level rises, glacier melting and the risk of forest fires are at, or beyond, what was considered the worst-case scenario in 2007.

Prof Beddington will say shifts in climate will see northern Europe and other high-latitude regions become key centres for food production. A technological push is needed to develop renewable energy supplies, boost crop yields and better utilise existing water supplies.

Prof Beddington will use the speech to urge Europe to involve independent scientists more directly in its policymaking, using recent appointments by Barack Obama in the US as an example of how senior scientists have been brought into the political fold. Shortly after taking office, the president announced what many see as a “dream team” of scientists, including two Nobel laureates, to advise on science, energy and the environment. – (Guardian service)