March 10, 2011 / 11:35 PM / 9 years ago

High food prices said foretaste of climate shocks

* New commission formed to look at climate-food links

* Climate change could worsen price spikes

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO, March 11 (Reuters) - Leaps in food prices linked to drought in Brazil or floods in Australia may be a foretaste of ever greater shocks to be caused by climate change, according to a commission named on Friday to find ways to fix the problems.

The international group of 13 experts will try to come up with ideas in the next 10 months to help agriculture cope with global warming, blamed by the U.N. panel of climate experts mainly on mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

John Beddington, Britain’s chief scientific adviser who will chair the commission, said it would advise governments on issues such as U.N. climate negotiations and in preparing an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in mid-2012.

“Extreme weather like the droughts in Russia, China and Brazil and the flooding in Pakistan and Australia have contributed to a level of food price volatility we haven’t seen since the oil crisis of 40 years ago,” he said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, this could be just a taste of things to come because in the next few decades the build-up of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere could greatly increase the risk of droughts, flooding, pest infestation and water scarcity for agriculture systems already under tremendous stress,” he added.

World food prices hit a record high last month, according to the United Nations [ID:nLDE70POU8]. High food prices are adding to poverty and are a factor in triggering uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt which have spread across the Arab world.

The poorest farmers in sub-Saharan Africa may be among those who have most at stake.

“I think that Africa has the most to gain by taking some very simple measures,” Judi Wakhungu, executive director of the African Center for Technology Studies in Kenya and a member of the commission, told Reuters.

Past recommendations have included more research into drought- and flood-resistant crops and a shift to more ecological forms of farming that use fewer oil-dependent fertilisers and pesticides.

Wakhungu said the world had failed to reform farming despite a string of past reports outlining risks of climate change. The commission would take a different line, telling governments what to do rather than merely outlining options.

“... we will try as much as possible to be policy prescriptive,” she said.

The commission comprises experts from Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, Britain, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam.

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