Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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3.2. Agriculture and Food Security

Based on experimental research, crop yield responses to climate change vary widely, depending upon species and cultivar; soil properties; pests, and pathogens; the direct effects of carbon dioxide (CO2) on plants; and interactions between CO2, air temperature, water stress, mineral nutrition, air quality, and adaptive responses. Even though increased CO2 concentration can stimulate crop growth and yield, that benefit may not always overcome the adverse effects of excessive heat and drought (medium confidence6). These advances, along with advances in research on agricultural adaptation, have been incorporated since the Second Assessment Report (SAR) into models used to assess the effects of climate change on crop yields, food supply, farm incomes, and prices. [4.2]

Costs will be involved in coping with climate-induced yield losses and adaptation of livestock production systems. These agronomic and husbandry adaptation options could include, for example, adjustments to planting dates, fertilization rates, irrigation applications, cultivar traits, and selection of animal species. [4.2]

When autonomous agronomic adaptation is included, crop modeling assessments indicate, with medium to low confidence6, that climate change will lead to generally positive responses at less than a few °C warming and generally negative responses for more than a few °C in mid-latitude crop yields. Similar assessments indicate that yields of some crops in tropical locations would decrease generally with even minimal increases in temperature, because such crops are near their maximum temperature tolerance and dryland/rainfed agriculture predominates. Where there is also a large decrease in rainfall, tropical crop yields would be even more adversely affected. With autonomous agronomic adaptation, crop yields in the tropics tend to be less adversely affected by climate change than without adaptation, but they still tend to remain below levels estimated with current climate. [4.2]

Most global and regional economic studies not incorporating climate change indicate that the downward trend in global real commodity prices in the 20th century is likely to continue into the 21st, although confidence in these predictions decreases farther into the future. Economic modeling assessments indicate that impacts of climate change on agricultural production and prices are estimated to result in small percentage changes in global income (low confidence6), with larger increases in more developed regions and smaller increases or declines in developing regions. Improved confidence in this finding depends on further research into the sensitivity of economic modeling assessments to their base assumptions. [4.2 and Box 5-5]

Most studies indicate that global mean annual temperature increases of a few °C or greater would prompt food prices to increase due to a slowing in the expansion of global food supply relative to growth in global food demand (established, but incomplete6). At lesser amounts of warming than a few °C, economic models do not clearly distinguish the climate change signal from other sources of change based on those studies included in this assessment. Some recent aggregated studies have estimated economic impacts on vulnerable populations such as smallholder producers and poor urban consumers. These studies find that climate change would lower incomes of the vulnerable populations and increase the absolute number of people at risk of hunger, though this is uncertain and requires further research. It is established, though incompletely, that climate change, mainly through increased extremes and temporal/ spatial shifts, will worsen food security in Africa. [4.2]

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