How will climate change affect food security?

Mitigating the effects on agriculture will require creative adaptations, per IPCC report (with free access to related research)

By Elaine van Ommen Kloeke, PhD - December 3, 2014  9 mins
planting of mangrove seedlings featured

Global climate change influences all aspects of our daily lives, and it will for many years to come. The challenge for each individual, institute, company and government is to not only identify the risks but also adapt and mitigate the effects to ensure a future for all on planet Earth. Although not all effects of climate change may turn out negative, most sectors will need to find ways to deal with the effects. Areas at high risk are agriculture and food security.

To assess all aspects of climate change and its impact and formulate realistic strategies to mitigate these effects, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded in 1988. Last month, the IPCC released its 5th Assessment Report (AR5), which synthesizes and evaluates research related to impacts, adaptation and mitigation of climate change since the previous Assessment Reports.

<a href=>The Future of Food and Farming: 2030</a> – a graphic overview of the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security. Adaptation of our crops and farming methods will be key to a sustainable future. Source: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)

Food security and food production systems

The report was developed by the IPCC's three working groups. Working Group II focused on two very challenging and interrelated topics; agriculture and food security. Chapter 7,  "Food security and food production systems," details the current effects of climate change, the expected decline in crop production by 2030 as a result of climate change, and what farmers can do to mitigate some of the negative impacts. As stated by the chapter authors: "The questions for this chapter are how far climate and its change affect current food production systems and food security and the extent to which they will do so in the future."

A key conclusion of the authors is that climate challenge will increase the risk of reduced crop productivity associated with heat and drought stress. Negative impacts in average crop and pasture yield will likely be clearly visible by 2030. For example, in parts of Brazil, rice and wheat yields are could decline by 14%, according to their forecast.

To mitigate the effects, they recommend the following crop management adaptations:

  • Cultivar adjustment (e.g., developing new crop varieties that are tolerant to drought, heat and salt via breeding or genetic modification)
  • Planting date adjustment
  • Combined planting date and cultivar adjustment
  • Irrigation optimization
  • Fertilizer optimization

<strong>Planting of mangrove seedlings in Funafala, an islet of Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu.</strong> Source: © David J. Wilson for the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5)

Also changes should be made to livestock and fisheries practices, such as restoring mangrove forests to create sustainable breeding sites for essential fish populations.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) made a comprehensive overview of the above mentioned possible effects of climate change on food and farming for 2030. The overview, for instance, shows which parts of the world will be affected by climate change and what the effects will likely be for their food and farming systems by 2030.

Adaptations in the way we produce food, farm our lands and treat our environment will be key to mitigating the effects and ensuring food security.

The results of the food security chapter may not be that alarming for most experts, according to some of the editors of Elsevier's Agronomy journals. However, it is still very important that meaningful adaptations to agricultural practices and attempts to limit emissions are made to ensure the risk posed by climate change on agriculture, and thus food security, is manageable.

After just one week of its release, the food chapter was downloaded more than 25,000 times, and the WGII Summary for Policymakers was downloaded more than 500,000 times.

Worldwide scientific collaboration — and volunteers

The IPCC only has about a dozen full-time staff. The real work on the reports is done by unpaid scientific volunteers around the world, contributing as authors or reviewers. For instance, for AR5 Working Group II alone, there were 308 authors from 70 countries and a total of 50,492 review comments. A large percentage of the relevant scientific community is thus involved as volunteers, spending valuable time creating these high-impact reports.

Watch a video of Working Group II's contribution

Climate Change, Food and Agriculture Research from Elsevier Journals

The IPCC authors rely heavily on refereed scientific publications for their analysis. In this context, papers published by the major publishing houses are invaluable to the IPCC process. For instance, for Chapter 7, 557 scientific publications were used, including books, journal articles or reports. Of those sources, 70 (about 13 percent) came from agriculture and agronomy related journals published by Elsevier.

As a service and a thank you to the scientific community whose papers have been used in Chapter 7 of the IPCC report, Elsevier has made a selection of papers from the following journals freely available until May 31, 2015.

European Journal of Agronomy

Van Oort, P.A.J., B. G. H. Timmermans and A.C.P.M. van Swaaij: "Why farmers' sowing dates hardly change when temperature rises," European Journal of Agronomy (July 2012)

Olesen, J. E., M. Trnka, K. Kersebaum, A. Skjelvåg, B. Seguin, P. Peltonen-Sainio, F. Rossi, J. Kozyra, and F. Micale: "Impacts and adaptation of European crop production systems to climate change," European Journal of Agronomy (February 2011)

Palosuo, T., K.C. Kersebaum, C. Angulo, P. Hlavinka, M. Moriondo, J.E. Olesen, R.H. Patil, F. Ruget, C. Rumbaur, J. Takáč, M. Trnka, M. Bindi, B. Çaldağ, F. Ewert, R. Ferrise, W. Mirschel, L. Saylan, B. Šiška, and R. Rötter: "Simulation of winter wheat yields and yield variability in different climates of Europe. A comparison of eight crop growth models," European Journal of Agronomy (October 2011)

Rötter, R.P., T. Palosuo, N.K. Pirttioja, M. Dubrovsky, T. Salo, S. Fronsek, R. Aikasalo, M. Trnka, A. Ristolainen, and T. Carter:         "What would Happen to Barley Production in Finland if Global Warming Exceeded 4°C? A Model-Based Assessment," European Journal of Agronomy (November 2011)


Field Crops Research

Ambardekar, A.A., T.J. Siebenmorgen, P.A. Counce, S.B. Lanning, and A. Mauromoustakos: "Impact of field-scale nighttime air temperatures during kernel development on rice milling quality," Field Crops Research (June 2011)

Brisson, N., P. Gate, D. Gouache, G. Charmet, F. Oury, and F. Huard: "Why are wheat yields stagnating in Europe? A comprehensive data analysis for France," Field Crops Research (October 2010)

Shimono, H., H. Kanno, and S. Sawano: "Can the cropping schedule of rice be adapted to changing climate? A case study in cool areas of northern Japan," Field Crops Research (August 2010)


Agricultural Systems

Li, X., T. Takahashi, S. Nobuhiro, and H.M. Kaiser: "The impact of climate change on maize yields in the United States and China," Agricultural Systems (April 2011)

Supit, I., C.A. van Diepen, A.J.W. de Wit, P. Kabat, B. Baruth, and F. Ludwig: "Recent changes in the climate yield potential of various crops in Europe," Agricultural Systems (November 2010)

Thornton, P.K., P.G. Jones, G. Alagarswamy, J. Andresen, and M. Herrero:  "Adapting to climate change:  agricultural system and household impacts in East Africa," Agricultural Systems (February 2010)


Agricultural Water Management

Molden, D., T. Oweis, P. Steduto, P. Bindraban, M.A. Hanjra, and J. Kijne: "Improving agricultural water productivity: between optimism and caution," Agricultural Water Management (April 2010)

Descheemaeker, K., T. Amede, and A. Haileslassie: "Improving water productivity in mixed crop–livestock farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa," Agricultural Water Management (May 2010)

Liu, S., X. Mo, Z. Lin, Y. Xu, J. Ji, G. Wen, and J. Richey: "Crop yield responses to climate change in the Huang-Huai-Hai plain of China," Agricultural Water Management (August 2010)


Agricultural and Forest Meteorology

Berg, A., M. de Noblet-Ducoudre, B. Sultan, M. Langaigne, and M. Guimberteau: "Projections of climate change impacts on potential C4 crop productivity over tropical regions," Agricultural and Forest Meteorology (March 2013)

Osborne, T.M., G. Rose, and T. Wheeler: "Variation in the global-scale impacts of climate change on crop productivity due to climate model uncertainty and adaptation," Agricultural and Forest Meteorology (March 2013)

Rosenzweig, C., J.W. Jones, J.L. Hatfield, A.C. Ruane, K.J. Boote, P. Thorburn, J.M. Antle, G.C. Nelson, C. Porter, S. Janssen, S. Asseng, B. Basso, F. Ewert, D. Wallach, G. Baigorria, and J.M. Winter: "The Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP): protocols and pilot studies," Agricultural and Forest Meteorology (March 2013)

Teixeira, E., G. Fischer, H. van Velthuizen, C. Walter, and F. Ewert: "Global hot-spots of heat stress on agricultural crops due to climate change," Agricultural and Forest Meteorology(March 2013)


Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment

Odgaard, M., P. Bøcher, T. Dalgaard, and J. Svenning: "Climate and non-climatic drivers of spatiotemporal maize-area dynamics across the northern limit for maize production – a case study from Denmark," Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment (August 2011)

Luo, Q., W. Bellotti, M. Williams, and E. Wang: "Adaptation to climate change of wheat growing in South Australia: analysis of management and breeding strategies," Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment (January 2009)

Krishnan, P., D. Swain, B. Bhaskar, S. Nayak, and R. Dash: "Impact of elevated CO2 and temperature on rice yield and methods of adaptation as evaluated by crop simulation studies," Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment (October 2007)

About the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN general assembly.

In 2007, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Today its role is "... to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies."

Assessments are made in three working groups:

  • Working Group I: The Science of Climate Change — dealing with the physical climate science basis, as assessed by the climatologists.
  • Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability — assessing impacts of climate change on socio-economic and natural systems and possibilities to deal with them via adaptation
  • Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change — dealing with mitigation options for limiting change via reducing greenhouse gas emissions (present and future)

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Elaine van Ommen Kloeke, PhD

Dr. Elaine van Ommen Kloeke (@ElaineVOK) obtained her PhD in soil ecology from the VU University Amsterdam, investigating the potential risks and effects of genetically modified crops on essential invertebrate species in the soil ecosystem. She joined Elsevier as Publisher of Agronomy and Remote Sensing journals, working closely with experts in the field of agriculture and food security.


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