People Are Experiencing the Impact of Climate Change through Higher Food Prices

People are increasingly feeling personally affected by climate change and many are connecting the dots between climate change and rising food prices, according to the latest GlobeScan Healthy & Sustainable Living (HSL) Global Consumer Insights study.

Food prices had been steadily rising long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine put pressure on imports of food staples like cereals, wheat, and oilseed. The 2019 outbreak of swine fever in China saw a huge jump in inflation. A year later, COVID-19 caused havoc with supply chains, again sending the cost of food production and distribution soaring.

Although prices are starting to slowly dip, year-on-year increases in food prices during this period have been at their fastest this century. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data, during the second quarter of 2022, global inflation rates of consumer food prices stood at almost 13 percent – significantly higher than the 10.3 percent recorded in the first quarter of the year – with increased prices experienced in every region of the world.

Extreme weather events, drought, floods, and soil erosion – all exacerbated by changes to our climate – continue to put pressure on food systems. More frequent weather extremes can damage crops and farming infrastructure, adversely affecting farmer productivity. As a result, climate change is likely to bring about greater volatility in food prices. That is certainly the view of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, which predicts a 20 percent mean rise in food prices globally by the middle of this century.

More people are now linking the global climate crisis with their ability to put food on the table and the proportion of people saying they are “a great deal” personally affected by climate change has increased from 31 percent in 2020 to 37 percent in 2022. The study, which includes the opinions, attitudes, and behaviors of about 30,000 people across 31 markets, shows that consumers in most markets have shown consistently high – and growing – levels of perceived personal impact over the last three years. And when asked how they are experiencing changes brought about by a warming planet, people mostly refer not only to extreme heat but also to the rising cost of food.

Though most consumers claim they would be willing to pay a premium for sustainable products and services, just as they have for the last few years, their willingness to pay more for environmentally and socially responsible items has declined across many economies struggling with the rising cost of living. This is especially true in Europe, but across 23 markets, just 55 percent of people tracked between 2019 and 2022 now say they at least “somewhat agree” they would be willing to pay more for sustainable products – down from 58 percent in both 2020 and 2021. Three-quarters of people also tend to agree that sustainable products have become more expensive in the past 12 months.

The good news is that overall, people still want to play their part in leading a sustainable lifestyle and support brands that are being responsible. For example, two-thirds of people say they are willing to reduce their consumption by half so as not to contribute to the climate crisis and cause environmental damage. This is especially the case for those with children at home.

However, progress in closing the gap between what people say they want to do and actually doing it is slow and this so-called aspiration-action gap persists in all markets and across all demographics.

Today, the majority of people in 23 out of the 31 markets analysed say they are “greatly affected” by the cost of living. This leaves consumers less able – and less willing – to pay more for products and services that are better for society and the planet, especially younger people, and those on lower incomes. It is therefore increasingly important for brands to focus on making it easier, more accessible, and more affordable for people to live sustainable lives and effect the change we need.

About the Healthy & Sustainable Living research program

The Healthy & Sustainable Living Global Consumer Insights research was conducted in June and July 2022. Designed by GlobeScan, it was developed with a range of partners including Akatu InstituteIKEALevi Strauss & Co.M&C Saatchi GroupNYU Stern Center for Sustainable BusinessP&GPepsiCoReckittVisa, and WWF International. The goal of the study is to help organizations better understand the mindsets of consumers globally and what enables them or prevents them from living in a healthier and more sustainable way.