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SEI brief

Climate risks to trade and food security: implications for policy

This policy brief presents policy insights from a groundbreaking assessment of climate risks to international trade in six major commodities.

Kevin M. Adams, Magnus Benzie, Simon Croft / Published on 28 October 2021
Download  Read the policy brief / PDF / 1 MB

Adams, K.M., Benzie, M., Croft, S. and Sadowski, S. (2021). Climate Risks to Trade and Food Security: Implications for Policy. SEI Policy Brief. Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm.

The brief is based on the Climate Change, Trade, and Global Food Security report. The report provides a first systematic, quantitative assessment of transboundary climate risks to trade in six key agricultural commodities: maize, rice, wheat, soy, sugar cane, and coffee.

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

Key messages

  • Transboundary climate risks to global food security are critical and mounting but, until now, have been largely unrecognized by the global community. Our 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 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.
  • A cooperative multilateral approach is required to assess, manage, and reduce these risks; 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 fair 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 clear risks to food security in all countries – 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 authors set out policy considerations under four main areas:

  • Effective and just adaptation action is vital, particularly in key exporting countries 
  • Prioritizing global cooperation on adaptation – and mechanisms to achieve it 
  • Rethinking climate finance for adaptation 
  • Who is responsible for adapting to climate risks to food trade? 

Read the policy brief / PDF / 1 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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