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Homesustainable future industryBritain’s economy is already seeing a rapid shift due to climate change

Britain’s economy is already seeing a rapid shift due to climate change

Climate change could spark major shifts in British produce in the coming decades as the country attempts to avoid a "catastrophic" environmental fallout, experts have said.

At the end of July, the U.K.'s Royal Meteorological Society published its State of the U.K. Climate 2020 report, with the authors noting that last year was England's third warmest year since records began in 1884.

Meanwhile, the U.K. Met Office predicts that the country is set for warmer and wetter winters, hotter and drier summers and "more frequent and intense weather extremes" because of climate change.

Michael Christie, professor of environmental and ecological economics at Aberystwyth Business School in Wales, told CNBC in a phone call that unless drastic measures were taken in the U.K. and internationally, temperature rises would have "more and more catastrophic effects."

"And those effects will be irreversible," he added, noting that certain industries were at greater risk.

"For agriculture, for example, there will be risks in terms of potential impact on what crops can grow," he said. "There are also issues in terms of livestock and methane emissions, so farmers might not be able to have [as much] livestock in the future. But there are maybe some benefits in that warmer temperatures in the U.K. might actually lead to increased yields."

Impact on agriculture

Last year, 71% of land in the U.K. was actively being used for farming. Agriculture made up 0.5% of the country's gross domestic production in 2020, and the industry was the source of 1.4% of all British jobs.

Martin Lukac, professor of ecosystem science at the University of Reading, told CNBC that some British farmers were already feeling the impact of more frequent extreme weather events, specifically flooding and dry spells.

"In areas where a lack of grass biomass to feed the cattle had never been an issue, all of a sudden, this was on everyone's agenda, because there was no pasture to be had," he said.

What happens overseas also affects British agriculture, Lukac pointed out.

"A greater impact will be felt in other parts of the world, but agriculture has become globally integrated," he told CNBC. "For example, a failure of yield in Brazil will be felt by the U.K. livestock industry, because we buy soya from Brazil and feed it to the cows in Britain."

Issues with water availability could also bring new challenges in the future, Lukac predicted.

"The cost of water is minimal right now — it's not really costed into farmers' business models. But I suspect at some point, when farmers will be competing directly with the general population for drinking water because of supply limitations, this will become an issue," he explained.

In recent years, Lukac added, Britain's changing climate had altered what was being grown locally. For example, more areas had become capable of growing maize. Meanwhile, government policies aimed at reducing emissions had had what he called a "cascade effect."

"Some years back there was a drive to biodiesel," he said. "Some agricultural policy in the U.K. changed and started to subsidize rapeseed a little more than other crops. This has been a sizeable change in the type of crops we grow, and in fact, we had to change the agricultural policy a little again [to encourage] diversity of crops."

British wine boom

Elsewhere, the U.K.'s warming climate has been encouraging an expansion of the country's wine industry.

"Here in Great Britain, the wine sector has been growing rapidly over the last 10 to 15 years," Steve Dorling, director of innovation at the University of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences, told CNBC.


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