The 2011 winter drought in eastern China's wheat-growing region had a significant impact beyond the country's borders. Fearing crop failure, China turned to the international market to buy wheat, contributing to a doubling of global wheat prices. This had knock-on effects in Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer. In fact, China’s mitigation efforts had repercussions across the Arab world where high food prices were a contributory factor to civil unrest.
The drought, the worst under Communist Party rule, exemplifies the ‘globalisation of climate hazards’ as well as the ability of an autocratic state to preserve social order. The drought/wheat price rise/protest trajectory shows how natural hazards, food security and political stability can be linked. In an era of climate change, growing populations and limited resources these links pose increasing challenges – and risk.
Dr Troy Sternberg is a researcher at the School of Geography, University of Oxford and is funded by the British Academy and Royal Geographical Society. His research examines how climate hazards interact with the environment and societies in Asian drylands. Working in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and China, he has focused on the impact that drought and extreme weather has on communities and landscapes.
This meeting was chaired by Dr Jeffrey Mazo, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for Environmental Security and Science Policy and Consulting Editor, Survival. It took place in the fifth-floor Lee Kuan Yew Conference Room at Arundel House.