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Climate change impacts on global agriculture


Based on predicted changes in the magnitude and distribution of global precipitation, temperature and river flow under the IPCC SRES A1B and A2 scenarios, this study assesses the potential impacts of climate change and CO2 fertilization on global agriculture. The analysis uses the new version of the GTAP-W model, which distinguishes between rainfed and irrigated agriculture and implements water as an explicit factor of production for irrigated agriculture. Future climate change is likely to modify regional water endowments and soil moisture. As a consequence, the distribution of harvested land will change, modifying production and international trade patterns. The results suggest that a partial analysis of the main factors through which climate change will affect agricultural productivity provide a false appreciation of the nature of changes likely to occur. Our results show that global food production, welfare and GDP fall in the two time periods and SRES scenarios. Higher food prices are expected. No matter which SRES scenario is preferred, we find that the expected losses in welfare are significant. These losses are slightly larger under the SRES A2 scenario for the 2020s and under the SRES A1B scenario for the 2050s. The results show that national welfare is influenced both by regional climate change and climate-induced changes in competitiveness.

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  1. 1.

    Called C4 because the CO2 is first incorporated into a 4-carbon compound. C4 plants photosynthesize faster than C3 plants under high light intensity and high temperatures, and are more water-use efficient. They include mostly tropical plants, such as grasses and agriculturally important crops like maize, sugar cane, millet and sorghum.

  2. 2.

    Runoff and river flow are closely related and its distinction can be vague. Runoff is the amount of precipitation which flows into rivers and streams following evaporation and transpiration by plants, usually expressed as units of depth over the area of the catchment. River flow or streamflow is the water flow within a river channel, usually expressed as a rate of flow past a point (IPCC 2001).

  3. 3.

    Burniaux and Truong (2002) developed a special variant of the model, called GTAP-E. The model is best suited for the analysis of energy markets and environmental policies. There are two main changes in the basic structure. First, energy factors are separated from the set of intermediate inputs and inserted in a nested level of substitution with capital. This allows for more substitution possibilities. Second, database and model are extended to account for CO2 emissions related to energy consumption.

  4. 4.

    See Table S1 in the supplemental material for the regional, sectoral and factoral aggregation used in GTAP-W.

  5. 5.

    Let us assume that 60 percent of total rice production in region r is produced on irrigated farms and that the returns to land in rice production are 100 million USD. Thus, we have for region r that irrigated land rents in rice production are 60 million USD and rainfed land rents in rice production are 40 million USD.

  6. 6.

    Let us assume that the ratio of irrigated yield to rainfed yield in rice production in region r is 1.5 and that irrigated land rents in rice production in region r are 60 million USD. Thus, we have for irrigated agriculture in region r that irrigation rents are 20 million USD and land rents are 40 million USD.

  7. 7.

    A decomposition of the terms-of-trade effect by sector and region reveals that changes in agricultural production can explain most of it. An exception is the Former Soviet Union. Here, changes in other sectors including oil and gas mostly determine the size of the effect.


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We had useful discussions about the topics of this article with Korbinian Freier, Jemma Gornall and Uwe Schneider. We would like to thank Nele Leiner and Daniel Hernandez for helping arranging the data set. This article is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany under the project "Food and Water Security under Global Change: Developing Adaptive Capacity with a Focus on Rural Africa," which forms part of the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, by the Michael Otto Foundation for Environmental Protection, and by the Joint DECC and Defra Integrated Climate Programme – DECC/Defra (GA01101).

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Correspondence to Alvaro Calzadilla.

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Calzadilla, A., Rehdanz, K., Betts, R. et al. Climate change impacts on global agriculture. Climatic Change 120, 357–374 (2013).

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  • River Flow
  • Climate Change Impact
  • Irrigate Agriculture
  • SRES Scenario
  • Global Agriculture