How climate change will affect beer drinkers

Beer is the king of alcoholic beverages in terms of global volumes and sales, but experts warn that rising temperatures could lead to a seismic shift in the way we drink.


Following a groundbreaking UN report which warning world leaders they have less time than hoped to prevent catastrophic climate change, new research reveals that increased temperatures worldwide would lead to “dramatic” price spikes and supply shortages in the beer sector.

Global barley crops — one sixth of which go into beer production — already suffered from heatwaves and droughts last summer, but the report said instances of damage are only likely to increase, causing price surges on one of the drink’s key ingredients.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Plants, found that heatwaves will have a “substantial” effect on barley crops, with average yields falling from between 3% and 17%, depending on the region.

The scientists used climate change models to anticipate the impact of extreme weather conditions on barley crops over the next 80 years, as well as the impact of yields on beer supply and prices in a number of countries including the Czech Republic, China, the UK, Poland, Germany and the US. Overall, consumption is expected to fall by 16%; equal to roughly how much beer was imbibed in the US in 2011.

Drinkers in the UK would be forced to cut back their consumption by 25% in a worst-case climate change scenario, and in the US, 14% fewer bottles would be opened.

Consumption in China — the world’s biggest beer drinking nation — would fall by 9%. Poland, meanwhile, would face the biggest mark-ups on pints in the worst climate change circumstances, with prices increasing by 500%

While the majority of the world’s barley is used to feed livestock, the researchers believe beer will be more affected, as governments are likely to prioritise keeping animals fed when grain is in short supply.

Prof Dabo Guan at the University of East Anglia, one of the researchers who worked on the study, said, between the increased floods, natural disasters and food shortages a large number of people could face thanks to climate change, more expensive beer might seem “inconsequential.”

However, a shortage of beer could have a lasting impact on the quality of life of many. There is, Guan said, “something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer.”

“There is little doubt that, for millions of people, around the world, the climate impacts of beer will add insult to injury.”

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