Current predictions for a best-case scenario see the world climate reach the much-fated 1.5 degrees increase from pre-industrial levels by 2040. This will represent a major shift in climate for each and every country as increased anomalous events and extreme weather will become more frequent and accordingly, more costly and disruptive.
In the United Kingdom, this means warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers. Over recent years the UK’s experience of climate change and extreme weather events has been relatively muted and largely limited to localised flooding and travel disruption, a stark contrast to the wild fires, tornadoes, freezing rain, and torrential flooding seen across the globe.
Whilst we generally understand the long-term risks posed by climate change, the immediate cost of climate change in the UK is often over-looked. Food shortages often followed by huge price hikes have become a regular occurrence, a direct result of changing climates and our reliance on imports to feed the nation.
History is a critical guide as to the impact of extreme weather on society. The “little ice age” during the middle of the 17th century, saw not only freak weather events and significant shifts in climate, but also simultaneous geo-political crisis across the entire globe impacting almost every major civilisation.
In summation, during the course of a few decades, but most notably during the 1640s, societal breakdowns occurred most frequently than at any time during history: Ming China, the most populous state collapsed; Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the largest state in Europe, collapsed; the English civil war culminated in the only beheading of an English monarch; rebellions arose in Scotland, Ireland, and the US; much of the Spanish monarchy’s Empire seceded; Japan saw 40 revolts in 50 years. And in 1648 alone Russia, France and the Ottoman Empire witnessed rebellion, with Sweden and Denmark following suit in the 1650s.
Two concurrent climate factors arose during this period that climate historians attribute to the upheaval. In this period, solar activity reached its lowest level in two millennia. The aurora borealis effectively disappeared until 1715 as a result of huge reduction in sunspots. Secondly, there was a significant increase in dust in the atmosphere causing reduced sunlight and heat.
A spate of 12 major volcanic eruptions in the Pacific occurred in the 1630s and 1640s – an all-time record. In 1643, the Nile fell to its lowest ever level, the snowline dropped and glaciers advanced across Europe, taking with it valuable arable land and increasing crop failures across the globe.
During this period the cost of food rocketed, as a result of supply shortages and worsening yields. The result was a socio-economic shockwave heightening famine and food poverty globally, which in turn led to growing tensions in international trade relations, political instability, and uprising. The connection is clear, when our climate fluctuates, food supply is threatened, and unrest and increased political upheaval follows.
The relevance: we are beginning to experience the effects of climate-related upheaval and are likely to experience heightened food security risk over coming years and beyond. As of today, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen some of the worst fighting on European soil since the second world war. Away from energy markets, Ukrainian grain has been used as bartering tool, with Putin threatening the global food chain in the name of land gain.
Early indicators point to the emergence of a major El Niño this year which will further exacerbate global temperature rises. Research from Columbia University found cyclical climatic changes double the risk of civil wars, with analysis showing that 50 of 250 conflicts between 1950 and 2004 were triggered as a result of the El Niño cycle. Food security will continue to be threatened over coming years, engendering an increased risk in political instability. Although technology has allowed for significant gains in efficiency and vastly reduced risk within our food chains, disruption, shortages, and inflation are inevitable, and real estate has a key role in reducing the impacts to our daily life.
To better understand the importance of real estate's role in safeguarding our food chains read our recent report Future of Food Chains.