Severe climate events such as drought and heat may affect global barley yields: with potential average yield losses in barley ranging from 3% to 17%, depending on the severity of conditions. This in turn would ultimately result in ‘dramatic’ falls in beer consumption and a rise in beer prices.
The researchers of the study believe they are the first to investigate the vulnerability of beer supply to the climate extremes predicted in other research.
Impact of barley shortages
Beer is a big user of barley, consuming some 17% of global barley production. Decreases in the global supply of barley lead to proportionally larger decreases in barley used to make beer, says the study.
During the most severe climate events, the results indicate that global beer consumption would decline by 16%, or 29 billion litres - roughly equal to the total annual beer consumption in the US - and that beer prices would, on average, double.
Even in less severe extreme events, beer consumption drops by 4% and prices rise by 15%.
The international study involved researchers from the UK, China, Mexico, and the US, who modelled the impacts of extreme climate events on barley yields in 34 world regions.
Global barley production
The beer industry uses around 17% of global barley production, but this share varies hugely between countries - for example from 83% in Brazil to 9% in Australia.
The study says potential average yield losses would range from 3% to 17%, depending on the severity of the conditions.
They then looked at the effects of the resulting barley supply shock on the supply and price of beer in each region, remodelling for a range of future climate scenarios.
The researchers found that China – the largest beer consumer – would be most affected; with beer consumption falling by more than any other country as the severity of extreme events increases. In the most severe situation this would mean a reduction of 4.34 billion litres.
Some countries with smaller total beer consumption also face huge reductions in their beer consumption: the volume of beer consumed in Argentina falls by 0.53 billion litres, equivalent to a 32% reduction, during more severe climate events. Even in the least severe climate events, total beer consumption in Argentina and Canada decreases by 0.27 billion litres (16%) and 0.22 billion litres (11%) respectively.
Consumption in the US could decrease by between 1.08 billion and 3.48 billion litres.
In the UK, beer consumption could fall by between 0.37 billion and 1.33 billion litres, while the price could as much as double.
Climate change effects on wine, coffee and beer
Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at the University of East Anglia (UK) and co-ordinator of the research, said that efforts to mitigate severe weather effects from climate change will naturally focus on staple goods – and so it could be luxury goods that are most effected by environmental changes.
“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.
“However, if adaptation efforts prioritise necessities, climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods to a greater extent than staple foods. People’s diet security is equally important to food security in many aspects of society.
“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.”
New barley varieties
The study models extreme climate effects in the present day, and researchers acknowledge that new technology or new barley varieties may seek to mitigate the effect of climate change. But they warn that it is the unpredictability and disruption from extreme weather events is what will affect barley supply the most.
"In the long term, adaptation efforts might offset mean damages to barley production from climate change through changes in agronomic practices, cultivars or barley-growing areas; however, extreme events are difficult to manage under any climate regime," the researchers write in the study.
"Although the magnitude of potential climate adaptations in the agricultural sector remains a topic of much debate, it is clear that extreme climatic events will pose serious supply disruptions.
"For example, assuming that adaptation efforts are successful in preventing yield decreases due to changes in mean climate, extreme events will still result in increasingly large production losses, and the frequency and severity of these events increase with temperature increases."
The study was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the British Academy and Philip Leverhulme Prize.
Source: Nature Plants 2018
‘Decreases in global beer supply due to extreme drought and heat’, Wei Xie, Wei Xiong, Jie Pan, Tariq Ali, Qi Cui, Dabo Guan, Jing Meng, Nathaniel D Mueller, Erda Lin, and Steven J Davis.