UK research warns of crop shock due to extreme climate events

Scientists at the UK's Met Office have developed a new approach to estimating the impact of extreme climate events on food crops, using multiple climate model simulations run on the new Met Office supercomputer.

The study focuses on maize production across China and the United States, which account for almost 60% of global production and provides staple food for many millions of people.

Using seasonal temperature and rainfall conditions, the probability of adverse growing conditions for maize were the assessed within 1400 climate simulations.

The study found that across many regions, the probability of severe water stress is higher than if estimated solely from observed historical data, and that the current climate is capable of producing adverse conditions not seen in the last 30 years. Therefore, adaptation plans and policies based solely on observed events from the recent past may considerably underestimate the true risk of climate-related maize shocks.

In addition, the probability of adverse conditions across both China and the United States simultaneously, is estimated to be as high as 6% per decade.

Lead author of the paper, Chris Kent said this would be a scenario of multi-breadbasket failure in which impacts would be felt at the global scale.

“This is the first time we have been able to quantify the risk; it hasn’t been observed in the last 30 years, but the indications are that it is possible in the current climate”.

Kirsty Lewis, science manager of the Climate Security Team, said the work addresses an important gap in our understanding of climate variability in global maize production shocks.

“It provides a foundation for evaluating resilience for a range of crops across the global food system, both in the present day and long term under a changing climate, as well as enabling the development of new risk based climate services”.

Met Office scientists are currently working with partners in China to develop this new research into climate services relating to agricultural production and risk management.

The work was carried out under the CSSP China project, supported by the UK Government’s Newton Fund, and has been published in Environmental Research Letters. Future work will explore how climate change might impact maize yields in China and the United States as well as looking at other major crops such as soybean, wheat and rice.

For further information visit the Newton Fund website

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