Letter | Published:

Threat to future global food security from climate change and ozone air pollution

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 817821 (2014) | Download Citation


Future food production is highly vulnerable to both climate change and air pollution with implications for global food security1,2,3,4. Climate change adaptation and ozone regulation have been identified as important strategies to safeguard food production5,6, but little is known about how climate and ozone pollution interact to affect agriculture, nor the relative effectiveness of these two strategies for different crops and regions. Here we present an integrated analysis of the individual and combined effects of 2000–2050 climate change and ozone trends on the production of four major crops (wheat, rice, maize and soybean) worldwide based on historical observations and model projections, specifically accounting for ozone–temperature co-variation. The projections exclude the effect of rising CO2, which has complex and potentially offsetting impacts on global food supply7,8,9,10. We show that warming reduces global crop production by >10% by 2050 with a potential to substantially worsen global malnutrition in all scenarios considered. Ozone trends either exacerbate or offset a substantial fraction of climate impacts depending on the scenario, suggesting the importance of air quality management in agricultural planning. Furthermore, we find that depending on region some crops are primarily sensitive to either ozone (for example, wheat) or heat (for example, maize) alone, providing a measure of relative benefits of climate adaptation versus ozone regulation for food security in different regions.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    et al. Prioritizing climate change adaptation needs for food security in 2030. Science 319, 607–610 (2008).

  2. 2.

    & Historical warnings of future food insecurity with unprecedented seasonal heat. Science 323, 240–244 (2009).

  3. 3.

    , , & Global crop yield reductions due to surface ozone exposure: 2 year 2030 potential crop production losses and economic damage under two scenarios of O3 pollution. Atmos. Environ. 45, 2297–2309 (2011).

  4. 4.

    , , & Global crop yield reductions due to surface ozone exposure: 1 year 2000 crop production losses and economic damage. Atmos. Environ. 45, 2284–2296 (2011).

  5. 5.

    & Adaptation of US maize to temperature variations. Nature Clim. Change 3, 68–72 (2013).

  6. 6.

    , & Increasing global agricultural production by reducing ozone damages via methane emission controls and ozone-resistant cultivar selection. Glob. Change Biol. 19, 1285–1299 (2013).

  7. 7.

    & The response of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance to rising [CO2]: Mechanisms and environmental interactions. Plant Cell Environ. 30, 258–270 (2007).

  8. 8.

    , & Crop responses to ozone: Uptake, modes of action, carbon assimilation and partitioning. Plant Cell Environ. 28, 997–1011 (2005).

  9. 9.

    , , , & Ozone risk for vegetation in the future climate of Europe based on stomatal ozone uptake calculations. Tellus A 63, 174–187 (2011).

  10. 10.

    et al. Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition. Nature 510, 139–142 (2014).

  11. 11.

    & World Agriculture Towards 2030/2050: The 2012 Revision (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012).

  12. 12.

    , , , & The effects of tropospheric ozone on net primary productivity and implications for climate change. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. 63, 637–661 (2012).

  13. 13.

    Ozone risk for crops and pastures in present and future climates. Naturwissenschaften 96, 173–194 (2009).

  14. 14.

    et al. Implications of limiting CO2 concentrations for land use and energy. Science 324, 1183–1186 (2009).

  15. 15.

    et al. The RCP greenhouse gas concentrations and their extensions from 1765 to 2300. Climatic Change 109, 213–241 (2011).

  16. 16.

    & Effect of climate change on air quality. Atmos. Environ. 43, 51–63 (2009).

  17. 17.

    , , & Effect of CO2 inhibition on biogenic isoprene emission: Implications for air quality under 2000 to 2050 changes in climate, vegetation, and land use. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3479–3483 (2013).

  18. 18.

    , & Scenarios of long-term socio-economic and environmental development under climate stabilization. Technol. Forecast. Soc. 74, 887–935 (2007).

  19. 19.

    et al. A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation. Nature Clim. Change 4, 287–291 (2014).

  20. 20.

    , , & Leaf and canopy conductance in aspen and aspen-birch forests under free-air enrichment of carbon dioxide and ozone. Tree Physiol. 29, 1367–1380 (2009).

  21. 21.

    et al. Scaling ozone responses of forest trees to the ecosystem level in a changing climate. Plant Cell Environ. 28, 965–981 (2005).

  22. 22.

    , , , & Reduction of soil carbon formation by tropospheric ozone under increased carbon dioxide levels. Nature 425, 705–707 (2003).

  23. 23.

    , , & Indirect radiative forcing of climate change through ozone effects on the land-carbon sink. Nature 448, 791–794 (2007).

  24. 24.

    et al. Limited potential of crop management for mitigating surface ozone impacts on global food supply. Atmos. Environ. 45, 2569–2576 (2011).

  25. 25.

    , & Farming the planet: 2 Geographic distribution of crop areas, yields, physiological types, and net primary production in the year 2000. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 22, GB1022 (2008).

  26. 26.

    FAO Methodology for The Measurement of Food Deprivation: Updating The Minimum Dietary Energy Requirements (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2008).

  27. 27.

    & The State of Food Insecurity in The World 2012: Economic Growth is Necessary But Not Sufficient to Accelerate Reduction of Hunger and Malnutrition (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2012).

Download references


This work was supported with a Postdoctoral Fellowship and Start-up Allowance for junior faculty from the Croucher Foundation and The Chinese University of Hong Kong to A.P.K.T., as well as by the US National Science Foundation (AGS-1238109) and the US National Park Service (H2370094000). We also thank the FAO Agricultural Development Economics Division for providing the 2050 crop projections by country.

Author information

Author notes

    • Amos P. K. Tai

    Present address: Earth System Science Programme and Graduate Division of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Faculty of Science, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 852, China.


  1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Amos P. K. Tai
    •  & Colette L. Heald
  2. Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Colorado 80523, USA

    • Maria Val Martin
  3. Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 3JD, UK

    • Maria Val Martin
  4. Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Colette L. Heald


  1. Search for Amos P. K. Tai in:

  2. Search for Maria Val Martin in:

  3. Search for Colette L. Heald in:


A.P.K.T. conceived the strategies, developed the analytical tools and statistical models, processed and analysed the data, and wrote the paper. M.V.M. conducted the CESM simulations, and provided the future ozone and climate projections. C.L.H. supervised the project and writing of the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amos P. K. Tai.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history






Further reading