How will climate change impact your weekly shop?
- Credit: ARCHANT
Going green is imperative — but expensive.
This month scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report detailing the fact that limiting global warming to 1.5c was the best that can now be hoped for.
The IPCC said that climate change negatively affects global ability to produce crops, livestock and even fish due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.
It is also likely to increase the number of pests and diseases that farmers have to contend with, as well as the likelihood of extreme weather events such as floods.
This is a problem that some of the East’s brightest minds are tackling.
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The Earlham Institute, at Norwich Research Park, is working to improve food security in the face of an expanding population and climate crisis.
Among the projects being worked on are new methods of preventing insects from killing crops to reduce the reliance on insecticides, researching the genes that underpin the world’s most important cereal crops, and improving the health of the natural bacteria and fungi in soil.
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Professor Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, said: “At the Earlham Institute, we are applying the latest bioscience technologies in genomics, data science and AI to enable producers to meet the increasing consumer need for affordable and nutritious food in a world with an ever-growing population and climate crisis.
“These advanced technologies not only accelerate traditional crop breeding methods but also support precision agriculture and genome engineering to meet the rising demand.
“All of these approaches will be required to meet the current food security challenges we face.”
The agenda is set – but are food manufacturers in East Anglia ready, and how will it impact consumers?
Some businesses are already preparing – for example, chocolate business Gnaw which has a base Norwich.
Managing director Matt Legon began shifting the business sustainable years ago, investing in machinery which meant the packaging is compostable and building relationships with ethically-sourced bean suppliers.
He said: “Going green is expensive. We had to invest a lot of time and money into being sustainable and we will continue to.
“The thing is it’s not about trying to gain a commercial advantage to earn stripes – this just needs to happen.”
Mr Legon’s factory is run on renewable energy but says sustainable resources like packaging are increasing in price.
“We have seen packaging prices starting to go up; thankfully we’re in a good enough place where we can absorb that cost instead of passing it onto our customers. I do think though that our customers realise and want to shop more sustainably,” he said.
There’s “absolutely no doubt” that consumers are also shopping more ethically, said Charlotte Gurney, the co-founder of White Horse Farm in Sprowston.
She said: “The implications for us of climate change are a potential tax on red meat, which would have an implication because we sell that, we might see a fuel rise.
“There will be changes but we’re lucky in that we’re so close to the city and that people can walk and cycle to us, and we are also looking at putting in some electric vehicle charging points. Luckily for us, small businesses can react so much quicker than larger ones.”
Such conversations are being had with larger companies.
Fergus Fitzgerald is head of production at Adnams’, overseeing its beer and wine strategy. He said the climate crisis is already having an effect on the beers and wine we buy in the supermarket.
“A lot of hops are grown on the west coast of America,” he said. “It is getting warmer there and if those extremes go too far then you will have years where those hop harvests fail.
“They’re looking at how to breed hops with more resilience to those temperatures, but you also have to think about ripping out all those hops and moving them somewhere the climate is a bit cooler.”
Mr Fitzgerald said something similar was happening with American wine growers.
He said: “There has been a move for a couple of years, moving grapes from the California area down to Texas. It sounds crazy, because Texas is also pretty warm, but it’s got less extremes.”
The changing climate, then, could lead to wines from familiar places becoming rarer.
“I don’t think it’ll get to a stage where you’re not getting any French wine,” he said. “But I think there will be an increase in variability in terms of the weather which leads to a variability in the harvest.”
But other wines from other places could become more common.
He said: “We’ve already started to see more vineyards being planted in the UK, and I think that’s gathering more pace.
“There is more interest in English wine, and that’s partly because of the slight increase in warming — so you will get a little bit more of those fruit flavours coming through in the wine.
“We’ve still got a relatively cool climate, but the white wines – especially the sparkling wines – are up there with the best in the world.
“It’s a longer-term thing. It’s not next year, or the year after. It might be five or ten years before we have a significant amount of English wine.”
But the impact of the climate crisis and growing population could reach as far as the mundane act of turning on a tap.
Regan Harris, from Anglian Water, said: “I think the trouble is that we all take for granted that when we turn on a tap, water comes out.”
To make sure this continues, Anglian Water is embarking on a £500million project to connect the “wet” north of the country, with “dry” south and east, via a network of pipes.
More than 500km of pipes will be laid over the next five years as part of this project.
Ms Harris added: “This pipeline is probably one of the biggest infrastructure projects – certainly on a water side of things – that we’ve seen in a generation.
“It is a direct response to three things: climate change, population growth, and the being asked by our regulator to take less water out of the environment.”
Without this, the water company estimates that the East of England would face a water deficit of 30 million litres a day by 2025 – this equates to a shortfall of 4,380 Olympic swimming pools every year.