Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Shifts in national land use and food production in Great Britain after a climate tipping point

Abstract

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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Temperature and rainfall for the growing season (April to September) in 2020 and 2080.
Fig. 2: Impact of smooth and abrupt climate and economic change on the share of arable farmland in 2020 and 2080.
Fig. 3: Limiting factors from an AMOC collapse on the share of arable land.
Fig. 4: British water balance in 2080 during the growing season, with irrigation available, under the climate scenarios for which the AMOC is either maintained or collapsed.

Data availability

The modelled output data that support the findings of this study are openly available from Smith and Ritchie66.

References

  1. 1.

    Lenton, T. M. et al. Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 1786–1793 (2008).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Scheffer, M., Carpenter, S., Foley, J. A., Folke, C. & Walker, B. Catastrophic shifts in ecosystems. Nature 413, 591–596 (2001).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Milkoreit, M. et al. Defining tipping points for social-ecological systems scholarship—an interdisciplinary literature review. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 033005 (2018).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Lenton, T. M. & Ciscar, J.-C. Integrating tipping points into climate impact assessments. Clim. Change 117, 585–597 (2013).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Kopp, R. E., Shwom, R. L., Wagner, G. & Yuan, J. Tipping elements and climate–economic shocks: pathways toward integrated assessment. Earth’s Future 4, 346–372 (2016).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Vaughan, D. G. & Spouge, J. R. Risk estimation of collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Clim. Change 52, 65–91 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Boulton, C. A., Allison, L. C. & Lenton, T. M. Early warning signals of Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation collapse in a fully coupled climate model. Nat. Commun. 5, 5752 (2014).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Link, P. M. & Tol, R. S. Estimation of the economic impact of temperature changes induced by a shutdown of the thermohaline circulation: an application of FUND. Clim. Change 104, 287–304 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Tol, R. S. The economic effects of climate change. J. Econ. Pers. 23, 29–51 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Hofmann, M. & Rahmstorf, S. On the stability of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 20584–20589 (2009).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Rahmstorf, S. et al. Exceptional twentieth-century slowdown in Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Nat. Clim. Change 5, 475–480 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Drijfhout, S. Competition between global warming and an abrupt collapse of the AMOC in Earth’s energy imbalance. Sci. Rep. 5, 14877 (2015).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Mecking, J., Drijfhout, S., Jackson, L. & Graham, T. Stable AMOC off state in an eddy-permitting coupled climate model. Clim. Dynam. 47, 2455–2470 (2016).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    IPCC Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis (eds Stocker, T. F. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013).

  15. 15.

    Caesar, L., Rahmstorf, S., Robinson, A., Feulner, G. & Saba, V. Observed fingerprint of a weakening Atlantic Ocean overturning circulation. Nature 556, 191–196 (2018).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Liu, W., Xie, S.-P., Liu, Z. & Zhu, J. Overlooked possibility of a collapsed Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation in warming climate. Sci. Adv. 3, e1601666 (2017).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Fezzi, C. & Bateman, I. J. Structural agricultural land use modeling for spatial agro-environmental policy analysis. Am. J. Agric. Econ. 93, 1168–1188 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Fezzi, C. & Bateman, I. The impact of climate change on agriculture: nonlinear effects and aggregation bias in Ricardian models of farmland values. J. Assoc. Environ. Res. Econ. 2, 57–92 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Technical Report (United Nations Environmental Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2011).

  20. 20.

    Jackson, L. et al. Global and European climate impacts of a slowdown of the AMOC in a high resolution GCM. Clim. Dynam. 45, 3299–3316 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Cook, B. I., Ault, T. R. & Smerdon, J. E. Unprecedented 21st century drought risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains. Sci. Adv. 1, e1400082 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Benton, T. et al. Environmental Tipping Points and Food System Dynamics: Main Report (The Global Food Security Programme, 2017).

  23. 23.

    IPCC. Special Report on Climate Change and Land (IPCC, 2019).

  24. 24.

    Porter, J. R. et al. in Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) 485–533 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).

  25. 25.

    Mbow, C. et al. in Special Report on Climate Change and Land Ch 5 (IPCC, 2019).

  26. 26.

    Extreme Weather and Resilience of the Global Food System (Global Food Security Programme, 2015).

  27. 27.

    Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems: A Scenarios Analysis (World Economic Forum, 2017).

  28. 28.

    Global Strategic Trends: The Future Starts Today. 6th edn (Ministry of Defence, 2018).

  29. 29.

    El Chami, D., Knox, J., Daccache, A. & Weatherhead, E. The economics of irrigating wheat in a humid climate—a study in the East of England. Agric. Syst. 133, 97–108 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Swingedouw, D. et al. Impact of freshwater release in the North Atlantic under different climate conditions in an OAGCM. J. Clim. 22, 6377–6403 (2009).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Vellinga, M. & Wood, R. A. Global climatic impacts of a collapse of the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation. Clim. Change 54, 251–267 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Jacob, D. et al. Slowdown of the thermohaline circulation causes enhanced maritime climate influence and snow cover over Europe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L21711 (2005).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    National Statistics. Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2017 (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland), Welsh Assembly Government Department for Rural Affairs and Heritage & Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services, 2018).

  34. 34.

    Nordhaus, W. & Boyer, J. Warming the World: Economic Models of Global Warming (MIT Press, 2000).

  35. 35.

    Brayshaw, D. J., Woollings, T. & Vellinga, M. Tropical and extratropical responses of the North Atlantic atmospheric circulation to a sustained weakening of the MOC. J. Clim. 22, 3146–3155 (2009).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Dinesh, D., Campbell, B., Bonilla-Findji, O. & Richards, M. 10 Best Bet Innovations for Adaptation in Agriculture: A Supplement to the UNFCCC NAP Technical Guidelines. CCAFS Working Paper No. 215 (CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, 2017).

  37. 37.

    Madramootoo, C. Emerging Technologies for Promoting Food Security: Overcoming the World Food Crisis (Woodhead Publishing, 2015).

  38. 38.

    Benton, T. G., Froggatt, A., Wright, G., Thompson, C. E. & King, R. Food Politics and Policies in Post-Brexit Britain (Chatham House, 2019).

  39. 39.

    Challinor, A. J. et al. Transmission of climate risks across sectors and borders. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A Math. Phys. Eng. Sci. 376, 20170301 (2018).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Benton, T. G., Gallani, B., Jones, C., Lewis, K. & Tiffin, R. Severe Weather and UK Food Chain Resilience (Government Office for Science, 2012).

  41. 41.

    Fezzi, C. et al. Valuing provisioning ecosystem services in agriculture: the impact of climate change on food production in the United Kingdom. Environ. Res. Econ. 57, 197–214 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Met Office. UKCP09: Met Office Gridded Land Surface Climate Observations—Long Term Averages at 5km Resolution (Centre for Environmental Data Analysis, 2017).

  43. 43.

    Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. UKCP09: Met Office HadRM3-PPE UK Model Runs (NCAS British Atmospheric Data Centre, 2014).

  44. 44.

    Jenkins, G. UK Climate Projections: Briefing Report (Met Office Hadley Centre, 2009).

  45. 45.

    Nakicenovic, N. et al. Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), a Special Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000).

  46. 46.

    Safta, C. et al. Global sensitivity analysis, probabilistic calibration, and predictive assessment for the data assimilation linked ecosystem carbon model. Geosci. Model Dev. 8, 1899–1918 (2015).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Wu, J. & Segerson, K. The impact of policies and land characteristics on potential groundwater pollution in Wisconsin. Am. J. Agric. Econ. 77, 1033–1047 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Bateman, I. J. et al. Bringing ecosystem services into economic decision-making: land use in the United Kingdom. Science 341, 45–50 (2013).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Lubowski, R. N., Plantinga, A. J. & Stavins, R. N. Land-use change and carbon sinks: econometric estimation of the carbon sequestration supply function. J. Environ. Econ. Manage. 51, 135–152 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Carpentier, A. & Letort, E. Multicrop production models with multinomial logit acreage shares. Environ. Res. Econ. 59, 537–559 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Schlenker, W. & Roberts, M. J. Nonlinear temperature effects indicate severe damages to US crop yields under climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 15594–15598 (2009).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Morison, J. & Morecroft, M. Plant Growth and Climate Change (Blackwell Publishing, 2006).

  53. 53.

    Van Liedekerke, M., Jones, A. & Panagos, P. ESDBv2 Raster Library—A Set of Rasters Derived from the European Soil Database Distribution v2.0. (European Commission & European Soil Bureau Network, 2006).

  54. 54.

    Integrated Hydrological Digital Terrain Model (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, 2002).

  55. 55.

    Meridian 2 Developed Land Use Area (Ordinance Survey, 2013).

  56. 56.

    Digital Map Boundaries. Natural England Open Data Geoportal https://naturalengland-defra.opendata.arcgis.com/ (Natural England, 2012).

  57. 57.

    Digital Map Boundaries. Scottish Government Spatial Data https://www.spatialdata.gov.scot/ (Scottish Government, 2012).

  58. 58.

    Papke, L. E. & Wooldridge, J. M. Econometric methods for fractional response variables with an application to 401 (k) plan participation rates. J. Appl. Econ. 11, 619–632 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Papke, L. E. & Wooldridge, J. M. Panel data methods for fractional response variables with an application to test pass rates. J. Econ. 145, 121–133 (2008).

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Climate Change Initiative, Version 2.0 (European Space Agency, 2017); http://cci.esa.int/

  61. 61.

    Harris, I., Jones, P. D., Osborn, T. J. & Lister, D. H. Updated high-resolution grids of monthly climatic observations—the CRU TS3.10 Dataset. Int. J. Climatol. 34, 623–642 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Long, S. P., Ainsworth, E. A., Leakey, A. D. B., Nösberger, J. & Ort, D. R. Food for thought: lower-than-expected crop yield stimulation with rising CO2 concentrations. Science 312, 1918–1921 (2006).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Fezzi, C., Rigby, D., Bateman, I. J., Hadley, D. & Posen, P. Estimating the range of economic impacts on farms of nutrient leaching reduction policies. Agric. Econ. 39, 197–205 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    MacDonald, J. M. et al. Profits, Costs, and the Changing Structure of Dairy Farming (Economic Research Service & USDA, 2007).

  65. 65.

    Farm Business Survey (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2018).

  66. 66.

    Smith, G. S. & Ritchie, P. D. L. Modelled Arable Area for Great Britain Under Different Climate and Policy Scenarios (NERC Environmental Information Data Centre, 2019).

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the NERC Valuing Nature programme (NE/P007880/1). We are grateful for comments from T. Benton.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

I.J.B. and T.M.L. designed and directed the research. P.D.L.R. and G.S.S. helped to shape the research. P.D.L.R., G.S.S., K.J.D., I.J.B. and T.M.L. wrote the manuscript. C.F., C.A.B., A.B.H., A.V.G.-S., J.V.M., S.H.-V. and S.A.S. provided support and revisions. P.D.L.R., G.S.S. and K.J.D. planned and conducted simulations for all analyses. C.F. designed and ran the original agriculture land-use model with support from A.R.B., B.H.D. and I.J.B. C.F. and S.H.-V. further developed the agricultural land-use model from a global analysis of agricultural land use designed by A.B.H. and A.V.G.-S. The climate data were sourced and corrected for modelled bias by P.D.L.R. J.V.M. designed and ran the AMOC climate simulations.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Timothy M. Lenton or Ian J. Bateman.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Changes in farm profitability between 2020 and 2060 and between 2020 and 2080.

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

Extended Data Fig. 7 Model estimates of land-use (arable land share).

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)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing