Photo credit  |  Marcin Jozwiak on Unsplash

Climate stress testing the UK food supply chain using Earth Observation

News  |  13 October, 2020  |  Reading time: 3 minutes
Empty supermarket shelves make headlines in these days of ‘just-in-time’ supply chains when shoppers expect produce to be available all-year round.

So just how resilient are UK food supply chains in the face of a changing climate? And how best can space-enabled technology deliver the required robust data to underpin strategic decisions facing industries along the food supply chain?

To explore these questions Space4Climate has been successful in securing funding from the UK Climate Resilience Programme for one of the first six Embedded Researcher placements.

As convenor of the UK’s climate data from space community, Space4Climate is hosting Dr Caitlin Douglas, of King’s College, London, in collaboration with the London Climate Change Partnership and the London Food Board.

One of the principle aims of the Embedded Researcher scheme is to improve coordination between scientific progress and the needs of industry to address real-world problems.

Caitlin’s brief for the 12-month, full-time placement is to bring stakeholders in the UK food supply chain and the Earth observation industry together to create climate stress-testing tools which can improve the UK’s food security.

She says: “The current supply chain model is not future-ready. The points of the supply chain with the greatest vulnerability need be identified and the impact of any alterations understood to ensure that they do not jeopardise UK food security.”

Briony Turner, Climate Services Development Manager for Space4Climate, says: “Caitlin approached us with the idea of a focus on the UK’s food supply chain. We’d already picked up at trade shows an interest in space-enabled climate services from future commodities traders, many in the food supply chain, and had wondered whether there might be new types of space-enabled services required by the food sector.

“We are delighted with the way in which Caitlin has evolved the idea and look forward, through her work as an embedded researcher with us, to better understanding how our members can support the UK’s food supply chain in climate risk disclosure, stress-testing and as a result, climate informed management of business operations.”

Caitlin’s placement has been welcomed by Prof John Remedios, Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) which hosts the UK GEO/CEOS Office, which is providing complementary funding for the placement. He said: “The UK GEO/CEOS Office is delighted to be supporting Caitlin in her work on food security. We know that our food economy is sensitive to climate both in the UK and across our global food sources.

“Understanding how Earth Observation research and systems can guide our understanding of food is very important to the sponsors, the GEO/CEOS Office, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), NCEO, the UK Space Agency and Defra.”

Dr Kate Lonsdale is the UK Climate Resilience co-champion. In announcing the six successful placements with a total value of £280,000 funded by UKRI, she said: “By spending time within their host organisation, getting familiar with day to day ways of working, the embedded researcher can build personal relationships and better understand constraints on decision making. This should help to ensure that the outputs of the research they have co-designed with their host organisations are useful and usable.”

Caitlin will be blogging throughout her placement – read her first blog, Earth observation to increase resilience of the UK food supply chain.