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Climate-related disasters will disrupt food supply chains

A new climate modelling study led by the University of Sydney has found that climate change and extreme weather events will significantly impact food supply chains across different sectors and regions in Australia, which will likely cause cascading repercussions on income, food, and nutrient availability. 

According to the experts, while more affluent communities would be better safeguarded against such supply shocks, rural communities would be the most severely affected. Moreover, climatic events such as floods, cyclones, bushfires, or heatwaves could affect surrounding areas by limiting food availability and employment, with effects felt in distant regions too, due to the complex interconnectivity of modern supply chains.

“Climate change can directly impact our economy, livelihoods, and health. Disruptions caused by extreme weather events can cascade across regions and sectors, resulting in job and income losses and impacts on food availability,” said study lead author Arunima Malik, a senior lecturer in Sustainability at the University of Sydney. “Our study has sought to model the indirect supply-chain repercussions of these events to bolster our understanding of interconnected supply chain networks and to promote climate preparedness.”

Previous studies have found that localized disasters – such as a cyclone in Queensland – can impact all the other Australian states, resulting in significant losses across primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors. 

“What plays out globally seems to play out locally as well. Everyone is affected by climate change, even if they’re not in areas directly hit by extreme weather, and the vulnerable are affected most,” explained study co-author Manfred Lenzen, a professor of Sustainability Research at the University of Sydney.

Such impacts could lead to localized food price increases and diminished food quality, with poor people faring worse than their more affluent counterparts. 

“Disruptions to food supply can negatively impact diet quality, through reducing the variety that contributes to a balanced diet, diverting diets to unhealthy processed foods that have a longer shelf life. This disproportionately impacts vulnerable groups, who do not have the means to pay escalating prices for scarce fresh foods,” said study co-author David Raubenheimer, a professor of Nutritional Ecology at the same university.

Impacts on food production would most likely affect employment and cause income losses too, not only in the supply food chains, but also in the transportation and service sectors. 

“The cascading effects, generated by continuing climate variability and more frequent extreme weather events, not only disrupt supply chains, but may also trigger zoonotic diseases, foodborne epidemics, and broad socio-demographic stresses, including inter-regional migration and social unrest. It’s vital that we understand these impacts so we can build a more resilient society,” Dr. Malik concluded.

The study is published in the journal Nature Foods

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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