Climate change is expected to impact agricultural land use. Steadily accumulating changes in temperature and water availability can alter the relative profitability of different farming activities and promote land-use changes. There is also potential for high-impact ‘climate tipping points’, where abrupt, nonlinear change in climate occurs, such as the potential collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Here, using data from Great Britain, we develop a methodology to analyse the impacts of a climate tipping point on land use and economic outcomes for agriculture. We show that economic and land-use impacts of such a tipping point are likely to include widespread cessation of arable farming with losses of agricultural output that are an order of magnitude larger than the impacts of climate change without an AMOC collapse. The agricultural effects of AMOC collapse could be ameliorated by technological adaptations such as widespread irrigation, but the amount of water required and the costs appear to be prohibitive in this instance.
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The modelled output data that support the findings of this study are openly available from Smith and Ritchie66.
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This work was supported by the NERC Valuing Nature programme (NE/P007880/1). We are grateful for comments from T. Benton.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Changes in farm profitability between 2020 and 2060 and between 2020 and 2080
Extended Data Fig. 2 Predicted farm allocation to arable land for individual years between 2020 and 2080 per 2 km grid cell.
Predicted farm allocation to arable land for individual years between 2020 and 2080 per 2 km grid cell
Extended Data Fig. 3 Time series of mean temperature, total rainfall for the growing season and arable share for the four scenarios considered.
a) Temperature and rainfall in Great Britain with AMOC maintained and collapsed over 2020 to 2080. b) Mean arable fraction of agricultural land in Great Britain with AMOC maintained or collapsed and irrigation on or off, over the period 2020 to 2080
Extended Data Fig. 4 Mean temperature and total rainfall for spring and summer (March-August) in steady state runs of the AMOC maintained and collapsed.
a) - c) Mean temperature and d) – f) mean total rainfall for a), d) a maintained AMOC and b), e) collapsed AMOC13,20. c), f) Plots the difference between the means of the AMOC maintained and collapsed; a positive (negative) value represents an increase (decrease) for an AMOC collapse compared to the AMOC maintained
Extended Data Fig. 5 Impact of an AMOC collapse on temperature and rainfall across various climate model freshwater hosing experiments. First row, model used in this study.
Impact of an AMOC collapse on temperature and rainfall across various climate model freshwater hosing experiments. First row, model used in this study
Extended Data Fig. 6 Surface observations of the mean temperature and total rainfall for the growing season for 1960-1989.
a) Mean temperature and b) mean total rainfall for the growing season (April-September) from surface observations for the period 1960-1989
Model estimates of land-use (arable land share)
Extended Data Fig. 8 Estimated impact of temperature and rainfall on arable land share in Great Britain from the agricultural model.
Estimated fraction of arable share in Great Britain based on a) temperature and b) rainfall. For b) only: arable shares based on land cover data from Northern Eurasia (Eurasia), United Kingdom (UK), and the US Great Plains (USGP)
Extended Data Fig. 9 Impact sensitivity analysis of climate variables has on arable land share for 2020.
a) GB map of arable farmland for using the lower quartile temperature and rainfall. b) GB map of arable farmland for using the upper quartile temperature and lower quartile rainfall. c) GB map of arable farmland for using the mean temperature and rainfall. d) GB map of arable farmland for using the lower quartile temperature and upper quartile rainfall. e) GB map of arable farmland for using the upper quartile temperature and rainfall
Extended Data Fig. 10 Net impact range on GB agriculture of smooth versus tipping point climate change, with and without ameliorative measures.
Net impact range on GB agriculture of smooth versus tipping point (AMOC collapse) climate change, with and without ameliorative measures (technological response) using lower and upper quartile of temperature and rainfall for previous 30-year growing seasons (April-September)
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Ritchie, P.D.L., Smith, G.S., Davis, K.J. et al. Shifts in national land use and food production in Great Britain after a climate tipping point. Nat Food 1, 76–83 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-019-0011-3
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