Climate Change 2001:
Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
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4.2. Agriculture and Food Security

Figure TS-4: Ranges of percentage changes in crop yields (expressed in vertical extent of vertical bars only) spanning selected climate change scenarios—with and without agronomic adaptation—from paired studies listed in Table 5-4. Each pair of ranges is differentiated by geographic location and crop. Pairs of vertical bars represent the range of percentage changes with and without adaptation. Endpoints of each range represent collective high and low percentage change values derived from all climate scenarios used in the study. The horizontal extent of the bars is not meaningful. On the x-axis, the last name of the lead author is listed as it appears in Table 5-4; full source information is provided in the Chapter 5 reference list.

The response of crop yields to climate change varies widely, depending on the species, cultivar, soil conditions, treatment of CO2 direct effects, and other locational factors. It is established with medium confidence that a few degrees of projected warming will lead to general increases in temperate crop yields, with some regional variation (Table 5-4). At larger amounts of projected warming, most temperate crop yield responses become generally negative. Autonomous agronomic adaptation ameliorates temperate crop yield loss and improves gain in most cases (Figure TS-4). In the tropics, where some crops are near their maximum temperature tolerance and where dryland agriculture predominates, yields would decrease generally with even minimal changes in temperature; where there is a large decrease in rainfall, crop yields would be even more adversely affected (medium confidence). With autonomous agronomic adaptation, it is established with medium confidence that crop yields in the tropics tend to be less adversely affected by climate change than without adaptation, but they still tend to remain below baseline levels. Extreme events also will affect crop yields. Higher minimum temperatures will be beneficial to some crops, especially in temperate regions, and detrimental to other crops, especially in low latitudes (high confidence). Higher maximum temperatures will be generally detrimental to numerous crops (high confidence). [5.3.3]

Important advances in research since the SAR on the direct effects of CO2 on crops suggest that beneficial effects may be greater under certain stressful conditions, including warmer temperatures and drought. Although these effects are well established for a few crops under experimental conditions, knowledge of them is incomplete for suboptimal conditions of actual farms. Research on agricultural adaptation to climate change also has made important advances. Inexpensive, farm-level (autonomous) agronomic adaptations such as altering of planting dates and cultivar selections have been simulated in crop models extensively. More expensive, directed adaptations— such as changing land-use allocations and developing and using irrigation infrastructure—have been examined in a small but growing number of linked crop-economic models, integrated assessment models, and econometric models.

Degradation of soil and water resources is one of the major future challenges for global agriculture. It is established with high confidence that those processes are likely to be intensified by adverse changes in temperature and precipitation. Land use and management have been shown to have a greater impact on soil conditions than the indirect effect of climate change; thus, adaptation has the potential to significantly mitigate these impacts. A critical research need is to assess whether resource degradation will significantly increase the risks faced by vulnerable agricultural and rural populations [5.3.2, 5.3.4, 5.3.6].

In the absence of climate change, most global and regional studies project declining real prices for agricultural commodities. Confidence in these projections declines farther into the future. The impacts of climate change on agriculture are estimated to result in small percentage changes in global income, with positive changes in more developed regions and smaller or negative changes in developing regions (low to medium confidence). The effectiveness of adaptation (agronomic and economic) in ameliorating the impacts of climate change will vary regionally and depend a great deal on regional resource endowments, including stable and effective institutions. [5.3.1, 5.3.5]

Most studies indicate that mean annual temperature increases of 2.5ºC or greater would prompt food prices to increase (low confidence) as a result of slowing in the expansion of global food capacity relative to growth in global food demand. At lesser amounts of warming than 2.5ºC, global impact assessment models cannot distinguish the climate change signal from other sources of change. Some recent aggregated studies have estimated economic impacts on vulnerable populations such as smallholder producers and poor urban consumers. These studies indicate that climate change will lower the incomes of vulnerable populations and increase the absolute number of people at risk of hunger (low confidence). [5.3.5, 5.3.6]

Without autonomous adaptation, increases in extreme events are likely to increase heat stress-related livestock deaths, although winter warming may reduce neonatal deaths at temperate latitudes (established but incomplete). Strategies to adapt livestock to physiological stresses of warming are considered effective; however, adaptation research is hindered by the lack of experimentation and simulation. [5.3.3]

Confidence in specific numerical estimates of climate change impacts on production, income, and prices obtained from large, aggregated, integrated assessment models is considered to be low because there are several remaining uncertainties. The models are highly sensitive to some parameters that have been subjected to sensitivity analysis, yet sensitivity to a large number of other parameters has not been reported. Other uncertainties include the magnitude and persistence of effects of rising atmospheric CO2 on crop yield under realistic farming conditions; potential changes in crop and animal pest losses; spatial variability in crop responses to climate change; and the effects of changes in climate variability and extreme events on crops and livestock. [Box 5-3]

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