UK food security faces ‘real threat’ from international water shortages

Despite the UK experiencing the wettest winter in 250 years, researchers are warning that Britain's food supply is likely to become increasingly susceptible to global water shortages.

Researchers from the University of Bath and University of Loughborough have warned that many everyday commodities, such as food and manufactured goods, and especially those that rely on the availability of land or water, are sensitive to climate change on a global scale.

The University of Bath’s Department of Economics Dr Alistair Hunt said: “Our research looked at the water used to create 25 of Britain’s most economically significant and climate-sensitive imports, essential items such as crops, meat, fish, fuels, pharmaceuticals and paper.

“We found that these products represented 30% of Britain’s imports in 2010, and required 12.8 billion cubic metres of water. From this we were able to compare the need for water with models that show the changes in our economy and those that show changes in the availability of global resources such as water, and determine how secure Britain’s future imports are.”

The research group claims that some of Britain’s most important water-trading partners are already water scarce and now face increasing scarcity from climate change.

Dr Hunt said: “Britain is susceptible to pressures on global water resources because the national water footprint and water import dependency are relatively high even before climate change and population growth are considered”.

The research group has also outlined how countries like Britain that depend on climate-sensitive imported resources can reduce risk, through measures such as investing in the development of exporting nations, and by improving trade relations with potential new supplying nations.

Dr Hunt said: “Many countries have studied the risks that they face from climate change within their own borders, but few countries have looked at the impact of global climate change on their wellbeing and resource security.

“Our study highlights that even in a time when water may be of huge abundance within Britain, its scarcity in other parts of the world is likely to have negative consequences for British people.”

The study is the latest in a string of research reports looking at the implications of water scarcity.

Earlier this week, researchers at Newcastle University called on UK policymakers to give greater consideration to the electricity sector’s ‘water footprint’, as water shortages are likely to impact energy generation in the future. 

In July last year, the Committee on Climate Change released a report that claimed farmers in England are facing challenges to meet the demands of a growing population due to rising water scarcity fuelled by climate change.

Leigh Stringer

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