Trouble brewing as climate change affects beer supply

Barley grain used in the production of beer at the Asahi Kanagawa Brewery in Japan

Enlarge Barley grain used in the production of beer at the Asahi Kanagawa Brewery in Japan Tomohiro Ohsumi Bloomberg Getty Images

In a paper published Monday in Nature Plants, researchers said the supply and production of barley, the main ingredient of beer, are expected to drop by nearly 17 per cent by 2100, causing prices to double in some areas.

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It continued: "Although it may be argued that consuming less beer is not disastrous-and may even have health benefits-there is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer consumption will add insult to injury".

The researchers acknowledge that the price of beer is "not the most concerning impact of future climate change".

Extreme heatwaves and droughts will increasingly damage the global barley crop, meaning a common ingredient of the world's most popular alcoholic drink will become scarcer. These countries are expected to be impacted the most due to the large quantities of beer they brew from imported barley. Less than 20 percent of the world's barley is made into beer.

To make matters worse, only 17 percent of barley is used for alcoholic consumption - most of it is used as feed for livestock, which poses a huge problem for producers: feed for animals or thirsty humans?

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"While the effects on beer may seem modest in comparison to numerous other - some life-threatening - impacts of climate change", he added, "there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer". In future sweltering years with a double whammy of heat and drought, losses of barley yield can be as much as 17 percent, computer simulations show.

"Although some attention has been paid to the potential impact of climate change on luxury crops such as wine and coffee, the impact on beer has not been carefully evaluated".

Co-author Dr Nathan Mueller, also from the University of California at Irvine, said: "Current levels of fossil fuel consumption and CO2 (carbon dioxide) pollution - business as usual - will result in this worst-case scenario, with more weather extremes negatively impacting the world's beer basket".

In the United Kingdom, the researchers said, beer consumption could fall by between 0.37 billion and 1.33 billion litres, while the price could as much as double.

In the United Kingdom, beer consumption could fall between 0.37 billion and 1.33 billion litres, while the price could as much as double.

"Our results show that in the most severe climate events, the supply of beer could decline by about 16 per cent in years when droughts and heat waves strike", said co-author Steven Davis, also an associate professor of Earth system science at the UCI. Global warming could result in extreme weather, such as floods and droughts, which could jeopardise the lives of millions.

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