Climate change will reduce crop yields sooner than we thought

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A study led by the University of Leeds has shown that global warming of only 2°C will be detrimental to crops in temperate and tropical regions, with reduced yields from the 2030s onwards. 

Professor Andy Challinor, from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said: “Our research shows that crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected.

“Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year-to-year and from place-to-place – with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic.”

The study, published by the journal Nature Climate Change, feeds directly into the Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, which is due to be published at the end of March 2014.

In the study, the researchers created a new data set by combining and comparing results from 1,700 published assessments of the response that climate change will have on the yields of rice, maize and wheat.

Due to increased interest in climate change research, the new study was able to create the largest dataset to date on crop responses, with more than double the number of studies that were available for researchers to analyse for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.

In the Fourth Assessment Report, scientists had reported that regions of the world with temperate climates, such as Europe and most of North America, could withstand a couple of degrees of warming without a noticeable effect on harvests, or possibly even benefit from a bumper crop.

“As more data have become available, we’ve seen a shift in consensus, telling us that the impacts of climate change in temperate regions  will happen sooner rather than later,” said Professor Challinor.

The researchers state that we will see, on average, an increasingly negative impact of climate change on crop yields from the 2030s onwards. The impact will be greatest in the second half of the century, when decreases of over 25% will become increasingly common.

These statistics already account for minor adaptation techniques employed by farmers to mitigate the effects of climate change, such as small adjustments in the crop variety and planting date. Later in the century, greater agricultural transformations and innovations will be needed in order to safeguard crop yields for future generations.

“Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years. The overall picture remains negative, and we are now starting to see how research can support adaptation by avoiding the worse impacts,” concludes Professor Challinor.

The study was financially supported by the NERC EQUIP programme and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), with the financial assistance of the European Union, Canadian International Development Agency, World Bank, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Danida.

Further information

The research paper, 'A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation', was published online by the journal Nature Climate Change on 16 March 2014.

Professor Andy Challinor, a lead author of the forthcoming IPCC report, is available for interview. Please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer, University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email s.j.reed@leeds.ac.uk

Lead authors of research papers from the University of Leeds from all three Working Groups of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report will be available for interview at the About Transformational Climate Science 2014 conference, which will be held in Exeter on 15-16 May 2014. The event is co-organised by the University of Leeds, the Met Office and the University of Exeter. For further information, please contact Sarah Reed, Press Officer, University of Leeds, on 0113 34 34196 or email s.j.reed@leeds.ac.uk


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David    
North Carolina  |  March, 19, 2014 at 02:27 PM

That's assuming that there are going to be temperature increases. I guess if climate change causes lower temps that crop output will increase. Global temps have actually fallen for the past 18 years, add that to increases in CO2 and crop outputs should be extraordinary. Is that the case? No the regions effected are still experiencing lower yields.

Lance Ignon    
California  |  March, 22, 2014 at 10:35 AM

With all due respect, David, global temperatures have not been falling for the past 18 years. Each of the past three decades has been significantly hotter than the previous one. Surface temperatures, which is what you're referring to, did hit a high in 1998, but that high has been followed by a series of scorching numbers, many of which have set local records. Meanwhile, other indicators of climate change all point to a warming climate: the atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, sea level has risen, and concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased. The evidence is so clear that scientists recently concluded that causes of climate change are just as well established as the causes of lung cancer from smoking.

37 Years in Ag    
Calif  |  March, 19, 2014 at 07:31 PM

Thank you David for a rational and more factual post. These "datasets" are precisely where the rubber meets the road and are subject to great manipulation as we saw with the Univ of East Anglia scandal previously. Every time they use the word "consensus" it defines their position as an ideology and not science. The definition of science is theorem, followed by proofs, followed by repeatable conclusions. Consensus has no place in science and the assertion that it does is a slap in the face to every true and honest academic and intellectual all the way back through the hard fought battles for truth since Galileo and Copernicus. Know your history.

Gordon    
California  |  March, 20, 2014 at 12:03 PM

Seriously? The bewitched gas will do us in by ice if not by fire? Exactly when was it that climate was so certain there was no threat to agriculture?

For Real?    
Indiana  |  March, 20, 2014 at 08:12 PM

Why is a warming planet so hard for everyone to accept?

think a little?    
Michigan  |  March, 29, 2014 at 11:46 AM

Why is a stable/predictable climate thought to be the norm?


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