By Rob Mitchum

Recent work by a taskforce of British and American researchers, including Joshua Elliott of CI’s Center for Robust Decision-Making on Climate and Energy Policy, has highlighted the potential impact of “food shocks” caused by extreme weather. Elliott’s research has found that climate change is driving more frequent extreme events, such as droughts, turning previously “once-in-a-century” natural disasters into more common occurrences.

In a report released last year, an independent expert taskforce from the UK and USA outlined key recommendations to safeguard against threats to food supplies. Earlier this month, Elliott and some of his co-authors visited Washington, DC to directly communicate those findings, both to Congress and the broader scientific community in town for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting.

Food shocks have the potential to wreak havoc on food markets, commodity exports, and families around the world. Because distant regions are increasingly connected by global markets, the threat of extreme events occurring in different breadbaskets simultaneously is especially concerning. For example, what if severe drought in the US Midwest withers the soy and maize harvest at the same time that a record-breaking heat wave in Europe bakes the continent’s wheat crop?

At the Congressional briefing, held at the Hart Senate Office Building, the researchers offered an audience of Senate staffers policy recommendations to help prepare for a weather-related food crisis. One suggestion, Elliott said, was to use the biofuel industry, including corn-based ethanol, to buffer price fluctuations during major drought events that reduce food production.

The researchers also spent the afternoon visiting individual Senator’s offices, speaking with senior advisors about science-based climate and food policies and the importance of funding for multidisciplinary, international collaborations.

“I was really impressed by how excited and how engaged they were, they wanted to figure out things they can actually do now,” Elliott said. “It was a great experience over all, I learned a lot, and I think we created a lot of interest in these offices about food security issues in the US and globally.”

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