Trouble brewing for global beer industry

The world’s beer industry is headed for troubled waters, with climate change set to severely impact on the global supply of key ingredients, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The study warns that the increasing severity of drought and heat waves may cause ‘substantial decreases’ in barley yields worldwide, ultimately leading to a dramatic decrease in beer production.

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 findings, published today in Nature Plants, suggest that total beer consumption decreases most under climate change in the countries that consumed the most beer by volume in recent years. For example, the volume consumed in China - today the largest consuming country - falls by more than any other country as the severity of extreme events increases, and by 4.34 billion litres in the most severe.

Co-ordinator of the research and lead UK author Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA’s School of International Development, said: “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. A sufficient beer supply may help with the stability of entertainment and communication in society.”

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