Climate change will transform ag

24 Dec, 2014 06:13 AM
Achieving a climate-ready global food system will definitely be challenged by the uncertainties

CLIMATE change impacts will require major but very uncertain transformations of global agriculture systems by mid-century, according to new research from Austria's International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Forecast changes include increased irrigation and moving production from one region to another, according to the new study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

However, without careful planning for uncertain climate impacts, the chances of getting adaptation wrong are high, the study shows.

The study, undertaken by a group of researchers, provides a global scenario analysis that covers nine different climate scenarios, 18 crops and 4 crop management systems, as well as the interactions between crop production, consumption, prices, and trade.

It specifically examines adaptations that are investment-intensive and not easily reversible, such as building new water management infrastructure for irrigation, or increases and decreases to the production capacity of a region.

Such “transformations”, the researchers say, need to be anticipated, but their implementation is particularly plagued by uncertainty.

“There is a lot of uncertainty in how climate change will impact agriculture, and what adaptations will be needed,” said IIASA ecosystems services and management researcher David Leclère, who led the study.

“Our new study is the first to examine at a global scale whether the adaptations required from agricultural systems are in the transformational range, and whether these transformations are robust across plausible scenarios.

“By looking at where, when, why, and which transformations are required, but also in how many scenarios, it lays the groundwork for countries to better plan for the impacts of climate change.”

Impact on crop yields

In line with earlier results, the study finds that the impacts on crop yields of changes in climate, such as increased temperature, changing precipitation levels, along with the increased CO2 atmospheric concentration (which has a fertilising effect on plants), could lead to anywhere between an 18 per cent decline in global caloric production from cropland, to as much as a 3pc increase by 2050.

This biophysical impact varies widely across regions, crops, and management systems, thereby creating opportunities for adaptation at the same time.

By combining these climate and yield projections with the IIASA Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM) - a global model that includes land use, trade, consumption, water resources, and other factors - the researchers identified the likely needed adaptations and transformations for global agricultural systems.

“Our results confirm that the choice of the climate model used for estimating changes in climate largely shapes adaptations such as moving production from one region to another,” Mr Leclère said.

“But it also shows the importance of how regions are interconnected through trade: for example, in Latin America, where yields are projected to decrease in all scenarios, cropland could increase in some scenarios due to increased net exports to North America.

“In Europe, where yields are expected to increase due to climate change, cultivated land could decrease depending on the scenario, due to limited export opportunities.”

Choices need to be made soon

Since such major transformations are difficult and expensive to reverse, the researchers say, a comprehensive analysis of interactions between the direct biophysical impacts of climate and market-driven interconnections between regions is vital.

The study also reiterates the importance of limited water resources for future food security in a changing climate, showing that in a large part of the world, increases in irrigation larger than 25pc may be required.

However, the study found that a choice of the climate model for such areas is required as early as the 2030s.

According to Mr Leclère, “we have known for a long time that changes to rainfall are a major uncertainty. This study shows how important irrigation will be as an adaptive measure, but also how sensitive it is to different climate scenarios.”

Overall, the study finds, while adaptations are largely entering the transformational range by mid-21st century, almost none can be found to be robust across all scenarios.

“People often say that agriculture is adaptable - that throughout history, agricultural systems have shown a large capacity to evolve,” Mr Leclère said.

“It’s important to examine this assertion further, as achieving a climate-ready global food system will definitely be challenged by the uncertainties at stake.”

The scenario challenge

“After decades of global research efforts, scientists are only starting to understand the implications of climate change for the future global food system” said Michael Obersteiner, IIASA ecosystems services and management program director and study co-author.

“We need to explore new and uncertainty-proof paradigms for long-term decision-making, and we also need a much better understanding of how to manage crucial resources such as water, which may become dramatically scarcer much earlier than previously thought,” he said.

According to Petr Havlík, IIASA ecosystems services and management researcher and leader of the GLOBIOM modeling team, modelling tools are key to generating the knowledge for restraining climate change impacts on food security within acceptable boundaries, without increasing the pressure on resources.

“Our models show that there is an effective global adaptation strategy to any single climate change scenario. The challenge we face is to find the strategy which fits a hundred scenarios at the same time,” he said.


Leclere D, Havlik P, Fuss S, Schmid E, Mosnier A, Walsh B, Valin H, Herrero M, Khabarov N, and Obersteiner M. 2014. Climate change induced transformations of agricultural systems: insights from a global model. Environmental Research Letters.

International Institute for Applied Systems AnalysisSource:
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Albert Einstein
24/12/2014 1:48:35 PM

So Fairfax media is finally admitting that atmospheric carbon dioxide has a fertillising effect on plants. Take note Nico and the rest of the CO2 knockers.
24/12/2014 2:52:36 PM

ho hum......another academic with their crystal ball
25/12/2014 4:15:21 AM

Albert - I do not think anyone has ever denied that. What the deniers like to do, however, is quote that effect in isolation, without acknowledging the tranche of negative effects that come with an increase in CO2. A bit like saying sugar gives me energy, but not acknowledging that sugar also makes me fat!!
25/12/2014 5:28:39 AM

Humans release trapped stores of energy. Logically this energy produces heat. Maybe its the heat that is released that causes heating and CO2 is just a rough guide of the temperature change. CO2 doesnt account for nuclear stores of energy being released. This energy has an impact too. We like to think how smart we are as a race. Thinking and implementing improvements to our energy systems I.e. renewables into our future sustainable energy use could negate any further human impacts to the environment.
25/12/2014 7:36:59 AM

“People often say that agriculture is adaptable - that throughout history, agricultural systems have shown a large capacity to evolve,” Mr Leclère said. The problem over riding this observation is intensity. We can't impose on the land without being very careful. More scientists are needed, not fewer. More research funds, not less.
25/12/2014 11:24:44 AM

Most sentient beings are aware that the fertilisation effects of enhanced CO2 have been intensively studied for decades. To pretend otherwise is merely dishonest. Effects include greening of arid zones, increased woody weeds, decreased frost tolerance, enhanced or decreased crop yield. However, these effects (good and bad) depend on other factors including temperature, weather, the availability of water and nutrients. See eg: 26/8/3/031001/pdf/1748-9326_8_3_0 31001.pdf
Ted O'Brien.
25/12/2014 4:52:27 PM

"...will definitely be challenged by the uncertainties". Certainly so. "moving production from one region to another,'. I see that ten names were hired to tell us this? How much were they paid? It just goes to show that if you hire somebody to do your worrying for you, you must expect to be worried. Do not expect that their ideas of what you should be worrying about are the same as yours. "..nine different climate scenarios". Fancy that! Nine! Now which one should I look at? As 'Liza Doolittle sang: "Words, words, words, I'm so sick of words." Words are all it is. All paid for.
26/12/2014 5:21:03 AM

So far as the last 150 years is concerned climate change has been very beneficial to ag. The addition of 100 ppmv of atmospheric carbon dioxide and very slight increase of 0.7 degC in temperature has been a huge benefit to plant life on the earth. So it has been a win win situation for Ag in general. This will continue IF the CO2 atmospheric rate rises and IF the temperature rises more. IF the atmospheric carbon dioxide rate falls or the temperature falls then AG and plant life on earth will suffer badly, and if the plant life suffers then so will all other life including us humans.
Albert Einstein
26/12/2014 9:01:53 AM

"You don't think anyone has denied that " MB ? Let me refresh your memory , anyone who is stating that atmospheric carbon dioxide is a pollutant is denying it MB. How can it be a pollutant and a beneficial plant nutrient at the same time ?? It can't.
26/12/2014 9:10:04 AM

Nico you have to accept the good with the bad. We don't live in a perfect world with no weeds. If you undersow a crop with fertiliser , it fertilizes the crop and the weeds, this is well accepted by the farmer. So the farmer would not deprive his crop of the fertiliser just because he knew a few weeds would come up with the crop.
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