Climate extremes like this summer’s heatwaves threaten UK food imports from Mediterranean

Analysis of extent of UK food imports from Mediterranean region show scale of threat which increasingly severe climate impacts pose to UK food security.

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By George Smeeton

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After last year’s drought, and with parts of Europe and north Africa still suffering extreme high temperatures and wildfires, analysis of the extent of UK food imports from the Mediterranean region show the scale of threat which increasingly severe climate impacts pose to UK food security. [1]

The report, by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) shows that in 2022, just over a quarter of UK food imports – 9.8 billion kilograms, worth just over £16 billion – came from the Mediterranean region, most of which was staple fresh produce like fruit and vegetables. Spain alone, which is experiencing some of the worst climate impacts in the region, accounted for 7% of our food imports – worth £4 billion.

Europe has warmed at twice the rate of the global average over the last three decades, with the nations in southern Europe and northern Africa, around the Mediterranean experiencing some of the worst heat extremes ever in the last few years.

This has caused harm to food production as water shortages, extreme heat and fire damage crops, reduce quality and lower yields. Reduced yields mean less food in our shops and markets, and higher prices for the commodities affected. Previous ECIU analysis found that climate change and fossil fuel prices added more than £400 to household shopping bills in 2022, increasing the total annual UK food shopping bill by around £11.4 billion. [2]

This comes as polling commissioned by Round Our Way, a not-for-profit working to get people’s everyday experiences into the climate debate, suggests that 61% of Britons think that the recent European heatwaves will make food prices worse in Britain. The polling also showed that 61% of people think that politicians should be doing all they can to stop extreme weather getting worse; and that 74% of people think that climate change is contributing to record high temperatures in Europe. [3]

Commenting, Gareth Redmond-King, Head of International Programme at ECIU, said: “Even when we’re not experiencing extreme weather, we are not immune to its impacts in a globalised world. Shortages of salad and other vegetables in UK supermarkets in February this year caused by extremes in southern Spain and north Africa brought home to people just how vulnerable the UK is to the impacts of climate change on our food.

“But as the news this summer has daily showed the Mediterranean ravaged by vicious heatwaves, wildfires and drought, it’s sobering to realise just how much we rely on food imports that come from parts of the world most at risk from the changing climate.

“The heat we’ve seen in Europe this summer and in April would be all but impossible without climate change. These impacts will worsen as we continue to burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases, leaving the UK facing an unpleasant reality in a future of more shortages and higher costs. This should be a wakeup call about the vulnerability of our food supply chains to climate change. We can’t simply grow our way out of the problem by producing many of these foods in the UK. The only sure-fire way to avoid even worse and more dangerous impacts is to keep global temperature rises to 1.5°C, and the only way to do that is to cut our emissions to net zero.”

Some of the commodities imported from the Mediterranean are foods that can be grown outside in the UK for at least parts of the year, or that can be grown indoors, using more expensive and energy-intensive processes to protect them and heat the growing space. But many are foods that simply cannot be grown in the UK at-scale.

In the former category, this includes nearly all cauliflowers, broccoli and strawberries, and nearly two-thirds of the cucumbers and tomatoes which the UK imports, as well as nearly a fifth of the overall supply of onions.

In the latter category, more than half of the UK’s lemons and sweet peppers come from the Mediterranean, along with two thirds of all oranges and 40% of table grapes. The UK also relies on the region for over 80% of its olive oil – a commodity that has surged in price so much recently that it comes near the top of the list of foodstuffs behind sharp food price rises, therefore contributing to overall inflation.

Roger Harding, Director of Round Our Way said: "The impact of the deadly fires on the continent are going to be felt here at home as it causes food prices to rise and as ever it's people on modest incomes who are going to be hit hardest. All of us want more breathing space from rising food and energy bills and that means politicians starting to take the impact of climate change seriously and bringing forward plans to tackle it."

Overall, the report showed that the UK imported around half its food from overseas: 37 billion kilograms, worth £58 billion, and half of that was food that that is not grown in the UK.


Notes to editors:

  1. The report, Mediterranean climate impacts and UK food security, is available here:
  2. ECIU: Climate change, fossil fuels, and UK food prices:
  3. Polling conducted by Focaldata. Representative sample of 2,011 adults in Great Britain between 28-31 July 2023.

For more information or for interview requests:

George Smeeton, Head of Communications, ECIU, Tel: 07894 571 153, email: