nately, there is very little in the peer-reviewed literature concerning the links between food price increases and political unrest. One notable exception is a recent working paper (Bellemare, 2012) that presented an econometric analysis of global data since 1990 and found that high food prices were significantly correlated with political unrest related to food prices, with the latter measured by counting the number of news stories with at least five mentions of terms related to food and riots (or their synonyms).

Interest in the topic has increased in recent years, particularly within the community concerned with food security, spurred on by the question of whether rising food prices played a role in sparking the unrest of the “Arab Spring” of 2011. It is worth noting that the rapid food price increases in the MENA during this period were not driven by local weather conditions, but by events around the world including a severe heat wave in Russia. A report by Lagi et al. (2011) notes that clusters of unrest in the MENA region in 2008 and early 2011 both began immediately after the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization food price index passed a value of 210. Although they do not identify a causal link between high food prices and riots, the authors argue that a food price index value of 210 represents a simple potential predictor of increased unrest in food-importing countries. Breisinger et al. (2011) find that the unrest was preceded by a drop in food security across the MENA, and Ciezadlo (2011) emphasizes the role that food subsidies have played in popular attitudes toward regimes throughout the region. Johnstone and Mazo (2011) draw connections between climate events (which reduced global food production in the years preceding 2011) and the uprisings, describing climate change as a potential “threat multiplier” in the case of already unstable situations. All of these analyses are careful to note that drawing direct causal links between food prices and political instability is not possible, but they argue that food prices must be considered along with political and cultural factors in explanations of the uprisings.

Global Energy Markets

Like the food system, markets for energy commodities have become increasingly integrated globally over recent decades. In the case of petroleum, this integration is essentially complete: There is one global market that determines prices of crude petroleum, linking producers and consumers around the world (Yergin, 2006). Integration is also increasing, although lagging significantly behind petroleum, for other energy commodities such as electricity (Jamasb and Pollitt, 2005; Boëthius, 2012), natural gas (Siliverstovs et al., 2005), and coal (Wårell, 2006). Thus, possibilities for energy system shocks to have global impacts in the coming decade lie primarily in the petroleum sector.

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