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

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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

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.

Affiliations

  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

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Contributions

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.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2317

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