Agriculture and Climate Change: Effects and Responses

By Rosenzweig, Cynthia; Hillel, Daniel | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Agriculture and Climate Change: Effects and Responses


Rosenzweig, Cynthia, Hillel, Daniel, Phi Kappa Phi Forum


The prospect of climate change has heightened concerns about agricultural production worldwide. At the global and regional scales, food security is prominent among the human activities and ecosystem services under threat from anthropogenic (that is, resulting from human interactions) interference in the earth's climate (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005; IPCC 2001a; Watson et al., 2000). At the national scale, many countries are concerned about potential damages that may arise in coming decades from climate change, as these are likely to influence domestic and international policies, trading patterns, resource use, regional planning, and social welfare.

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The consequences of these changes on world food supply and demand will depend on many interactive, dynamic processes. While agro-climatic conditions governing land resources and their management are key components of food production, both supply and demand are also critically affected by socioeconomic pressures, including current and projected trends in population and income growth and distribution, as well as availability and access to technology and development. In the last three decades, for instance, average daily per-capita food intake has risen globally from 2,400 to 2,800 calories, spurred by economic growth, improved production systems, international trade, and globalization of markets. Feedbacks of such growth patterns on cultures and personal tastes, lifestyles, and demographic changes have in turn led to major dietary changes--mainly in developing countries, where shares of meat, fat, and sugar in total food intake have increased significantly (see Fischer et al., 2005).

Agriculture plays a fundamental, dual role in human-driven climate change. On the one hand, it is one of the key human sectors that will be affected by climate change over the coming decades, thus requiring adaptation. On the other hand, agriculture is also a major source of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere. As climate changes and socioeconomic pressures shape future demands for food, fiber, and energy, connections need to be identified between adaptation and mitigation strategies so that we can develop robust options which will meet both climate and societal challenges in the coming decades. Ultimately, farmers and others in the agricultural sector will be faced with the dual task of contributing to global reductions of carbon dioxide and other GHG emissions, while having to cope with an already-changing climate.

IMPACTS

Integrated assessment studies focusing on quantifying the effects of climate change on food production link agro-ecological dynamic crop production modules to economic models that can simulate the evolution of agriculture regionally and globally--including the important role played by world trade--in different socioeconomic scenarios. Such studies have found that global agricultural production may suffer little, or even benefit, from climate warming in the coming two or three decades of up to about 2.5[degrees]C--with positive effects of elevated carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) on crops overriding the rise in temperature (IPCCb 2001). Although the precise levels of C[O.sub.2] effects on crops and their contribution to global crop production are still active areas of research (Tubiello et al., 2006), negative global impacts are likely to result in all regions sometime around the second half of the century.

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Although most projections estimate small impacts at the global level (that is, less than 2 percent of global production in the next thirty years and less than 5 percent by the end of the century), they also suggest significant negative regional effects, especially in developing subtropical countries with low capacity for adaptation (Fig. 1). In many cases, developing countries are more vulnerable to climate change than developed countries because of the predominance of agriculture in their economies, the scarcity of capital for developing and disseminating measures to adapt to the change, the often-warmer baseline climate, the already stressed marginal-production environments, and the heightened exposure to extreme weather events. …

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