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Study: Farming 21% less productive since 1960s because of climate change

Climate change, including increases in drought, heat waves and extreme weather, have slowed gains in farming productivity, according to new research. Photo by Washington State University
Climate change, including increases in drought, heat waves and extreme weather, have slowed gains in farming productivity, according to new research. Photo by Washington State University

April 1 (UPI) -- Farming productivity has increased significantly over the last half-century. New research suggests those productivity boosts would have been even greater if it wasn't for climate change.

According to the new study, published Thursday in the journal Nature Climate Change, global warming has cut farming productivity 21% since 1960s.

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"We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years," lead author Ariel Ortiz-Bobea said in a press release.

"It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013 and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down," said Ortiz-Bobea, an associate professor of applied economics at Cornell University.

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While many studies have developed models to predict the impacts of climate change on future crop yields, few have looked at the impacts of climate change on past productivity.

For the study, scientists developed an econometric model to simulate the impacts of year-to-year weather changes on agricultural outputs.

The model considered more than 200 systematic variations and the impacts on crop yields. Researchers then ran the model under several different climate scenarios.

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The simulations showed the "total factor productivity" of the agricultural sector has been significantly hampered by human-caused climate change over the last 60 years.

Climate change-related slowdowns in agricultural productivity were most pronounced in Africa, Latin America and Asia, especially in warmer, semi-tropical regions.

Numerous studies have focused on the effects of climate change on coastal populations and human migration and displacement, as well as economic productivity.

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But the latest findings are a reminder that climate change could have a significant -- and harmful -- effect on global food systems and the ability of the agricultural sector to feed the planet's growing populace, researchers said.

"Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem," Ortiz-Bobea said. "But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations."

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