The role of international trade in managing food security risks from climate change

By Uris Lantz C Baldos1, Tom Hertel1

1. Purdue University

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International trade plays an important role in facilitating global food security in the face of a changing climate. In considering this issue, it is useful to distinguish between two different time scales: inter-annual and inter-decadal. Inter-annual adjustments in international trade can play an important role in shifting supplies from food surplus regions to regions facing food deficits which emerge as a consequence of extreme weather events, civil strife, and/or other disruptions The first section of the paper explores the evidence on increased inter-annual supply side volatility, as well as historical and prospective analyses of adaptation to such volatility and the role international trade can play in mitigating the adverse impacts on food security. In the long run, we expect that the fundamental patterns of comparative advantage will be altered by the changing climate as well as availability of technology and endowments (water for irrigation, labor force, capital stock). In a freely functioning global economy, long run trade patterns will respond to this evolving comparative advantage. However, historical food trade has not been free of obstacles, with both tariff and non-tariff barriers often limiting the adjustment of trade to the changing economic landscape. This section of the paper capitalizes on a newly available library of climate impact results in order to characterize the tails (both optimistic and pessimistic) of this distribution. We then explore the potential for a more freely functioning global trading system to deliver improved long run food security in 2050.

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Baldos, Uris Lantz C., and Thomas W. Hertel. "The role of international trade in managing food security risks from climate change." Food Security (2015): 1-16.