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SEI report

Climate change, trade, and global food security: a global assessment of transboundary climate risks in agricultural commodity flows

This report provides a first systematic, quantitative assessment of transboundary climate risks to trade in major agricultural commodities – maize, rice, wheat, soy, sugar cane, and coffee.

Kevin M. Adams, Magnus Benzie, Simon Croft / Published on 16 September 2021
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Adams, K.M., Benzie, M., Croft, S. and Sadowski, S. (2021). Climate change, trade, and global food security: A global assessment of transboundary climate risks in agricultural commodity flows. SEI report. Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm.

Key messages

  • Transboundary climate risks to global food security are critical and mounting but until now have remained largely unrecognized by the global community. This assessment reveals how these risks are distributed via international trade in six key commodities, linking producers and consumers thousands of kilometres apart.
  • Traditional approaches to managing trade risk, such as substitution and diversification, will be ineffective in a world that is facing accelerating climate change impacts simultaneously.
  • There is a high potential for increasingly tense geopolitical dynamics, as countries – particularly large agricultural producers – reckon with their own vulnerability to climate change and strive to maintain their current market shares.
  • Assessing, managing, and reducing these risks will require a cooperative multilateral approach. Responses that only account for national self-interest could undermine global resilience and exacerbate the global adaptation challenge.
  • A global systemic view is essential for planning and implementing equitable and effective adaptation. Achieving systemic resilience requires a level of international cooperation that is currently missing from global adaptation efforts. International organizations must do more to orchestrate and coordinate adaptation.
  • The material risk posed to food security in countries at all levels of development – but especially in low income, import-dependent countries – makes adaptation to transboundary climate risk a matter of public policy. Public and private adaptation strategies need to be better aligned to achieve a just transition to a more resilient world.

The impacts of climate change do not respect national borders. Transboundary climate risk has critical implications for biophysical resources, financial flows, human mobility, infrastructure, national security, and trade.

In a globalizing world, we can no longer consider climate change adaptation to be a solely national or local issue. Rather, as our communities and economies become more interconnected, our exposure to the adverse effects of a warming world is shared. Building climate resilience must be treated as a global challenge that can deliver mutual benefits.

Agriculture is one of the most exposed sectors to climate change, both over the short-term, as extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity, and the long-term, due to broader shifts in climatic patterns including temperature and precipitation.

Climate change will dramatically impact agricultural production all around the globe. In some cases, warmer temperatures will reduce yields, while in some limited circumstances agricultural productivity may increase. Overall, this assessment suggests that the risks are many times greater than the opportunities.

The assessment allows for comparison of significant trading relationships, exporters, importers and markets, and provides a basis for policymaking and setting priorities in risk management.


Read the report / PDF / 5 MB

SEI authors

Profile picture of Magnus Benzie
Magnus Benzie

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

Simon Croft

Research Fellow

SEI York

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