Beer, threatened by climate change | Science

Beer, threatened by climate change | Science

As the century progresses, there will be less beer and it will be more expensive. The climate change is causing more frequent and intense droughts and heat waves, which will affect the production of cereals. Now, a study has stopped in its impact on barley, the essential component of beer. The work concludes that in the worst years the harvest of large producers, such as Germany or Belgium, will be reduced by almost 40%. At the end of the century and in the worst scenario, there will be places, like Irish taverns, where a pint could almost quadruple its price.

To model the evolution of barley production, its availability to make beer and the evolution of prices, a group of researchers has compiled the heat waves Y periods of drought happened since 1981 in the main regions where the cereal is grown. All predictions indicate that both extreme weather events are increasing both their frequency and their intensity. They also noted the average yield of the crops and their decline after each of these episodes. Then they ran the model into the future, towards the different possible climate scenarios as humans reduce the emissions that heat the planet.

The results of the research, published in Nature Plants, indicate that still complying with what the UN asks and climate change begins to be reversed already, there will be an increase in extreme events. The authors of the work estimate that, in the worst case scenario, these events will reduce the world production of barley by 17%. But the average hides much higher regional losses of the crop: in Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic, three of the countries with the greatest brewing tradition could have years with losses of up to 38%. The percentages will also exceed 20% in other regions, such as Brazil or East Africa.

"About 17% is about the amount of barley needed to make all the beer consumed in the United States," recalls the researcher on the impacts of climate change at the University of California in Irvine and co-author of the Steven Davis study. After China, the US is the country that drinks more beer, with 25,300 million liters. However, in per capita consumption, Americans fall to tenth in a ranking led by the Irish (with 138 liters per person per year) and all Central European countries. "So [un 17%] it is a significant decline in the supply of barley, which will cause substantial changes in the consumption and price of beer, "adds Davis.

China is the largest consumer of beer and Irish people drink the most liters per person per year

In a second part of the work, the researchers fed an economic model with beer production and consumption data (FAO statistics for 2011) and prices for the half-liter bottle (or equivalent) of 2017 and analyzed the impact of the expected declines in barley available. The model took into account other variables such as purchasing power, measured in GDP per capita, if the domestic production of barley is enough to supply the local brewing industry or must be imported and, as a determining factor, the proportion of available cereal which is intended to make beer or feed the cattle, its other great destiny.

"According to our data, just over 67% of global barley production is dedicated to feeding livestock," says the researcher from the Chinese Center for Agrarian Policy at Peking University and co-author of the Tariq Ali study. Another 16% is used as a human food or for future plantings. For beer, 17% is reserved. Keep in mind that the best barley is taken by the brewing industry, it is a matter of added value. Brazil is a clear example. Being a country with a strong livestock sector, 83% of the barley that is harvested goes to the breweries and still has to import.

In a scenario with a gradual reduction of cereal production, dotted with years of bad harvests in one of the big producers, tensions over the distribution of barley will not stop growing. "In times of scarcity of barley, we will have to face the dilemma of sustaining our livestock, allocating enough grain for its food or beer supply, conserving its share of production.In the end, the choice will depend on how the different sectors react. each region to change its supply of barley and its price and maximizing the benefits, "Ali reasons.

Almost 70% of barley production goes to livestock fodder and 17% to brewing production

The most obvious consequence of these tensions will be a parallel process of increasing the price of beer and relative decline in its consumption. After the extreme weather events, the beer consumed will fall in global terms by 16%, some 29,000 million liters, while its price could double. As with the production of barley, the changes in consumption and prices also show marked regional differences that depend on aspects such as internal production, purchasing capacity or beer's own liking.

The most extreme case of these swings caused by climate change is that of Ireland. First beer consumer country per capita, after a bad crop year, the price of beer there will rise between 43% (best scenario) and 338% (worst) and consumption could be reduced by 40 liters per person no longer. Even so, they would still be the most drinkers. Other net importers of barley, such as Germans and Czechs, will have more moderate consumption reductions. It will be others who stop drinking beer.

"When there are supply problems, prices go up," recalls Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at East Anglia University (United Kingdom). For Guan, who also co-authored the study, it's all a question of money: "Developed countries have more purchasing power, so the production of beer that will satisfy the demand of those who have more money since it is a basic product of a free market With the climate change, the poor of China, India, Brazil or African countries will have to worry more about their food security (having enough food) than sumptuary consumption, like beer. "


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