The key household staples are among £8bn of foods the UK depends on from countries struggling the most with worsening droughts and floods, according to analysis of government trade data by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).
Nearly one quarter of those imports comes from just eight of the poorest countries most vulnerable to climate change – Kenya, Brazil, Peru, Vietnam, India, Colombia, Belize and Ivory Coast – the ECIU said.
Further UK trade statistics show that 16% of our food imports last year came directly from nations with so-called “low climate readiness” – which are countries that are not only exposed to climate impacts, but also lack capacity and preparedness to adapt and respond.
Cambridge University researcher Dr Rihab Khalid said: “This is yet more clear evidence of how climate change profoundly impacts everyday life, bringing the discussion to our kitchens and dinner tables.
“The £7.9bn of UK food imports that originate from nations with low climate readiness includes essential staples like rice, half of which comes from India and Pakistan.
“The escalating impacts of climate change in developing countries not only threaten the lives and livelihoods within these countries but also have ripple effects to our food security in the UK.”
With climate change fuelling weather patterns shifts, some of Brits’ favourite foods that cannot easily be grown at home are under increasing risk, the ECIU said.
For instance, devastating floods in Pakistan – the second-biggest source of UK rice imports – led to a drop of up to 20% in yields last year.
Modelling by World Weather Attribution scientists suggested the rainfall that caused the flooding had been made 50% more intense by climate change.
Meanwhile, tea-growing land in Kenya is shrinking as a result of prolonged hot and dry periods, and cocoa production in the Ivory Coast too has been badly hit this year as there has not been enough rainfall during the growing season.
In Vietnam, coffee production has been affected by extreme storms that damaged crops, as well as prolonged heat that degraded the quality of the beans.
The toll that such extreme weather events can take in production can often result in food prices going up in the UK, according to Gareth Redmond-King, head of international programme at ECIU.
The think tank recently released a study that showed the climate emergency’s impact on global food production was directly fuelling the cost of living crisis – with British households having forked out an extra £600 for their food bills over the past two years due to the climate crisis and soaring energy prices.
“The UK government is funding projects around the world to help food producers face these challenges with measures to, for example, reduce and reverse land degradation, support farmers to access markets, and to shift agriculture methods from subsistence to sustainability,” Redmond-King said.
“But as climate change creates ever more extreme weather, more of that support will be needed to keep the food flowing, but beyond certain temperatures there are limits to what we can do and some of these crops will simply fail.”
According to analysis by Carbon Brief, the UK has provided £12.63bn in international climate finance since 2011/12 and up to 2022/23.
The majority (80%) of that has gone to funds or institutions that disburse finance from multiple nations.
The UK allocated the remainder directly to developing nations, with Kenya, India, Colombia and Brazil receiving £377.5m, £144.8m, £108.4m, and £72.3m, respectively.
However, several other climate-vulnerable food supplying nations such as Belize, Ivory Coast and Peru received no climate finance directly from the UK in this period, ECIU analysis showed.
Khalid said: “If we want to protect those livelihoods overseas, and secure our food into the future, then Instead of cutting official development assistance overseas, the UK would be far better moving beyond mere aid and work to invest more in adaptation and resilience in the countries worst affected.
“Without that, our evening cup of tea and favourites like biryani, get ever more expensive, and in shorter supply in the future.”
Rishi Sunak recently pledged to invest more in climate resilient food systems with the announcement of a new white paper on international development at the Global Food Security Summit in London.
As part of the commitment, the UK will launch a new science centre to develop climate and disease-resistant crops, as well as donate up to £100m in humanitarian funding to countries worst hit by food insecurity and climate change, including Ethiopia, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Malawi.