These important Global Trends documents are compiled every four years by the US National Intelligence Committee (NIC) and put into the public domain in the March after a Presidential Election the previous November. The NIC brief the incoming President on its contents as soon as possible after their inauguration.
So what does this one say about food supplies?
Whereas in the 2017 Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress, only mentioned food in passing, and only twice in one of their three scenarios, this latest Global Trends devotes much of their fifth scenario to the humanitarian, environmental and geopolitical challenges of food shortages and scarcities, and the possibility of widespread famine:
Although this is a scenario for 2040, are we already seeing elements playing out already?
I have two concerns aboout this Global Trends edition:
- First, what is the nature of the ‘famines’ they envisage? Currently some 80% of the world’s food supply is from staple cereal crops, so perhaps it should be no surprise that the only food stuff they mention is ‘bread’. But we also need, arguably only need, energy and nutrient supplies from non-cereal sources. Malnutrition, whether from macro or micro-nutrient deficiencies, is a less-urgent challenge than calorie-deficiency (this less likely to lead to civil unrest), but the pernicious effects of nutrient deficiency are already with us.
- Secondly, there doesn’t seem an urgency to their scenarios. And leading on from this, why does only one scenario mention food at all?
Maybe the reason Global Trends 2040 lacks urgency regarding food security is when it was finalised (presumably mid to late 2020) and before briefing Biden in late January or early February 2021.
Since then, we’ve not only taken stock of Covid-19, its origins and impact, we’ve also experienced the increasing frequency and ferocity of extreme weather events, and terrifying wildfires. Everyone in the world has been experienced this personally to some degree, let alone seeing the impacts on our screen. And then there was COP26 . . .
The NIC folk simply did not have this recent experience. Unlike Chatham House when they published: What near-term climate impacts should worry us most? in October 2021. And it shows.
The screenshot below is from their summary; I’ve highlighted the impacts concerning food supplies: