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A disaster for drinkers? Climate change could cause global beer shortages, warn UEA researchers

PUBLISHED: 16:00 15 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:23 15 October 2018

Climate change could cause a global shortage of beer, according to researchers at the UEA. Picture: Antony Kelly

Climate change could cause a global shortage of beer, according to researchers at the UEA. Picture: Antony Kelly

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009

Climate change could spell disaster for drinkers – causing a global beer shortage and potentially doubling the price of a pint, warned Norwich researchers.

The alarming scenario is outlined in a study involving the University of East Anglia and believed to be the first detailed assessment of the vulnerability of beer supply to extreme climate and weather events.

It warns that increasingly widespread and severe droughts and heatwaves may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide, affecting the supply of grain for malting – and ultimately resulting in “dramatic” falls in consumption and rises in beer prices.

In the most extreme scenario, the findings suggest UK beer consumption could fall by between 0.37 billion and 1.33 billion litres, while the price could as much as double.

Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at the UEA’s School of International Development, co-ordinated the research and is the lead UK author of the report, published in the scientific journal Nature Plants.

He said: “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, which also involved researchers from China, Mexico and the US, modelled the impacts of a range of climate change predictions on barley yields in 34 world regions.

It calculated potential average yield losses could range from 3pc to 17pc and, during the most severe climate events, global beer consumption would decline by 16pc, or 29 billion litres – roughly equal to the total annual beer consumption in the US.

Prof Guan said while climate change research has started to examine the impact on world food production, it tended to focus 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,” he added.

“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.”

The study was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the British Academy and Philip Leverhulme Prize.

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