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Rice Field

19 Feb 2014

Water shortages still likely to affect UK food security

Following the wettest winter for 250 years, it would be fair to assume that water shortages are unlikely to be a problem in Britain for some time.

However, a paper published today in ‘Climate Research’ journal by Loughborough University and University of Bath researchers warns that food security in Britain faces a real threat from water shortages in other parts of the world.

Many of the commodities we use every day, such as food and manufactured goods, and especially those that rely on the availability of land or water, are sensitive to climate change on a global scale.

Researchers looked at the water used to create 25 of Britain’s most economically significant and climate-sensitive imports - essential items such as crops, meat, fish, fuels, pharmaceuticals and paper. In 2010, these products represented 30 per cent of Britain’s imports and required 12.8billion cubic metres of water.

From this they compared the need for water with models that show the changes in our economy and those that show changes in the availability of global resources such as water, and determine how secure Britain’s future imports are. Result showed Britain is likely to become increasingly susceptible to a loss of global water availability in the future.

Dr Alistair Hunt from the University of Bath’s Department of Economics said: “Britain is susceptible to pressures on global water resources because the national water footprint and water import dependency are relatively high even before climate change and population growth are considered.

“Some of Britain’s most important water-trading partners are already water scarce and now face increasing scarcity from climate change.

“Our study highlights that even in a time when water may be of huge abundance within Britain, its scarcity in other parts of the world is likely to have negative consequences for British people.”

The research group has also been able to outline how countries like Britain that depend on climate-sensitive imported resources can reduce risk, through measures such as investing in the development of exporting nations, and by improving trade relations with potential new supplying nations.

Co-author Robert Wilby, Professor of Hydroclimatic Modelling at Loughborough University added:

“Our research shows we really do need a more integrated approach to land, water and food, if we are to meet the challenges posed by climate change at home and abroad”.

You can access the paper abstract online

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR 14/34

Loughborough University

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year title in 2008-09 and has been named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University in London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

The University of Bath

We are one of the UK's leading universities, ranked in the top ten of all national league tables and third in the Sunday Times University Guide 2013 with only Cambridge and Oxford above us.

Our Mission is to deliver world class research and teaching, educating our graduates to become future leaders and innovators, and benefiting the wider population through our research, enterprise and influence. Our courses are innovative and interdisciplinary and we have an outstanding record of graduate employment.

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