Climate Change Could Put Serious Crimp in Global Beer Supply

This photo shows the beer cooler behind the counter in a convenience store in Sheridan, Ind. April 19, 2017. In future sweltering years with a double whammy of heat and drought, losses of barley yield can be as much as 17 percent, computer simulations show. And that means “beer prices would, on average, double,” even adjusting for inflation, said a study published in the journal Nature Plants on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(CN) – The global supply of beer could be the next victim of climate change, according to a study published Monday in Nature Plants.

Increasingly widespread and severe drought and heat may cause substantial decreases in barley yields worldwide, researchers from East Anglia University in Norwich, England, warn. With the key ingredient in beer in limited supply, production will be reduced and prices will spike.

Despite being the most popular alcoholic drink in the world by volume consumed, the vulnerability of beer supply to such extremes has never been assessed before now – even though future climate scenarios show increases in the frequency and severity of drought and heat extremes.

“Increasingly research has begun to project the impacts of climate change on world food production, focusing on staple crops such as wheat, maize, soybean, and rice,” according to research coordinator and lead U.K. author Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at East Anglia University School of International Development.

“However, if adaptation efforts prioritize necessities, climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods to a greater extent than staple foods,” Guan added.

He explained that in many aspects of society the security of people’s preferred diets is equally important to overall food security. This includes the ability to regularly imbibe a pint or two.

“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,” Guan said.

The international study involved researchers from the U.K., China, Mexico, and the United States, who identified extreme climate events and modeled the impacts on barley yields in 34 world regions. They then examined the effects of the resulting barley supply shock on the supply and price of beer in each region under a range of future climate scenarios.

During the most severe climate events, study results indicate global beer consumption would decline by 16 percent, or 29 billion liters – roughly equal to the total annual beer consumption in the United States – and beer prices would double on average. Even in less severe extreme events, beer consumption drops by 4 percent and prices rise by 15 percent, according to the data.

The findings suggest the countries with the highest recent total beer consumption by volume will see the greatest decline under climate change. For example, the volume consumed in China – today the largest consumer of beer – would fall more than any other country, more than 4 billion liter at the most severe range.

Beer consumption in the United Kingdom could fall between 370 million and 1.33 billion liters. In the United States, the amount of beer consumed could drop to between 1.08 billion and 3.48 billion liters while prices double.

“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,” Guan explained.

“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,” Guan said.

Some countries with smaller total beer consumption face steep drops due to climate change. The volume of beer consumed in Argentina could fall by 32 percent during more severe climate events and 16 percent in the least severe.

The researchers suggest changes in barley supply due to extreme events will affect the barley available for making beer differently in each region, as the allocation of barley for livestock feed, beer brewing, and other uses will depend on region-specific prices and demand flexibilities as different industries seek to maximize profits.

Their findings show that global and country-level barley supply declines progressively in more severe extreme event years, with the largest mean supply decreasing by 27 to 38 percent in some European countries such as Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Price shocks will not feel as painful to drinkers in places like Australia and Japan, where beer is already more expensive. Also, changes in the price of beer relate to consumers’ ability and willingness to pay more rather than consume less, so the largest price increases are likely to be concentrated in relatively affluent and historically beer-loving countries, researchers say.

The study was supported by the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, the British Academy and Philip Leverhulme Prize.

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