The first ever Symposium Vinexpo took centre stage to assess the impact of climate change on the wine and spirits industry
The inaugural Symposium Vinexpo boasted an impressive line-up of speakers and experts headlined by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) plus politicians, geographers, meteorologists, agronomists, economists as well as many international representatives of the wine industry itself.
Some key messages were reiterated throughout the day: climate change is real; the science proves it is man- made; the wine industry not only has a big responsibility to make itself more sustainable, but it is also one of the industries most exposed to the threats of climate change. While the tone was serious and at times bleak, there were several moments of optimism and an overall sense that, by adapting and evolving, wine production can continue to be a huge positive economic force
AT CURRENT RATES OF CLIMATE CHANGE, BY 2050, THE SUITABLE AREA FOR VITICULTURE IN MAJOR WINE- PRODUCING REGIONS COULD DECREASE BY UP TO 73% IN A WORSE-CASE SCENARIO; BEST- CASE IS A DECREASE OF 62%
In her opening address, delivered remotely to the hall’s big screens, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC, said, “The power of the wine industry goes beyond the glass. It’s estimated that the value of worldwide wine consumption is set for a record global market value of $224.5bn by 2021. This is excellent news, especially for workers. In the Bordeaux region, the wine sector is responsible for more than 54,000 jobs. But climate change has the potential to turn this good news story around. Wildfires, droughts, flooding and more – climate change is negatively affecting lives, livelihoods and futures. This could devastate the wine industry. Studies suggest that at current rates of climate change, by 2050, the suitable area for viticulture could decrease by up to 73%. We are already beginning to see the impacts. Champagne harvests in France have already advanced by a few weeks, changing the acidity of the grape. This is bad news for all of us as it affects taste and commercial value.”
While several speakers acknowledged wine’s non-essentiality among the world’s agricultural and food output, its importance was more also asserted: wines have been part of human civilisations from very early history, and its international economic contributions are huge. As Eric Giraud-Héraud, Economist, Institute of Vine & Wine Science, University of Bordeaux, pointed out “Wine accounts for 40% of all the surface agriculture in France” stressing that it is thus crucial that the future of winemaking is protected. Even within the greater context of socio-economic turmoil caused by climate change, Patrice Geoffron, Economics Lecturer at Paris-Dauphine University, pointed out that “in the chaotic emergence of the post-carbon world everything is unstable. In France – imagine if the ‘gilets jaunes’ movement were a response to carbon tax, failing crops, economic crisis – that shows us how disrupted the economy and everyday life could be.” The bulk of Geoffron’s presentation was an extrapolation of several possible outcomes, based on how much the climate changes in the near future. “If the Paris Agreement fails,” he said “We could see temperatures increase by 4 degrees in some regions by 2050.” The consensus is that, by then, winemaking would have moved entirely to regions like the north of Scotland, to Denmark, and Hokkaido in the north of Japan.
Christophe Navarre, Chairman of the Board, Vinexpo, was blunt in both his opening and closing speeches: starting with “This is a day for a call to action” and concluding “Vinexpo Bordeaux is a place not to be complacent.” Ultimately, the day’s activities have sparked crucial discussions and highlighted the need for urgent efforts. The next step? Act for change.
Photo: Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC