Impact of climate change on agriculture

December 19, 2011

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - When climatic patterns shift, the spatial distribution of croplands, habitats and fish populations soon follows, significantly impacting agriculture and food production. For example, droughts, floods and storms frequently kill livestock and damage crops, and impact world market prices and food availability.

Ariel Dinar, the director of the Water Science and Policy Center at the University of California, Riverside, and Robert Mendelsohn at Yale University have co-edited a "Handbook on Climate Change and Agriculture" (Edward Elgar Publishing Inc., December 2011) that explores, as its title suggests, the interaction between climate change and agriculture.

With contributions from international scholars, the handbook analyzes a variety of topics, including direct agronomic effects, economic impacts on agriculture, agricultural impacts on the economy, agricultural mitigation, and farmer adaptation. The authors argue that climate change is likely to have a large impact on agriculture around the world; this impact would be manifest through changes in temperature, precipitation, concentrations of carbon dioxide, and available water flows.

"Developing countries already face food problems," said Dinar, a professor of environmental economics and policy. "The effects of climate change on agriculture in these and other countries will depend on how well the agricultural sector can adapt through technology institutions, and better management practices. Developing countries are better able to engage in adaptation since mitigation is much harder for these countries to do."

Dinar mentioned that this is the first book to use a multidisciplinary approach in providing up-to-date information about the impact of climate change on agriculture. According to him, the handbook would be helpful to anyone interested in exploring the impacts of climate change on agriculture and agriculture's ability to adapt.

The book's chapters tackle a number of issues, including the mitigation of the effects of climate change, adaptation to climate change, the future of bio-fuel, and the "Clean Development Mechanism," which allows some countries to meet their carbon dioxide reduction obligations in a cost-effective way and has resulted in nearly 8000 projects worldwide.

Dinar began researching climate change in 1994 when he saw its impact neatly displayed in a set of color maps he came across of the United States. He realized then that a cartographic approach could be applied to study the impact of climate change in developing countries.

"The livelihood of people and nations is crucially dependent on agriculture, especially in the developing world," he said. "The economic, social and political ramifications of any impact on agriculture are, therefore, significant."

In became evident to Dinar in 1994 that agriculture had been largely neglected in climate change studies. He decided to research the topic.

"It soon became clear to me that people did not know much about adaptation to the effects of climate change," he said. "The net effect of climate change on agricultural production is still not well understood. It's not just the production of food from crops that is involved, but also livestock. Agriculture suffers from climate change, but it also contributes to it through land use and abuse, as well as the adoption of practices that are unsustainable where climate change is concerned such as unsuitable cropping patterns and irrigation technologies."

The "Handbook on Climate Change and Agriculture" took two years to edit.

"Two factors kept us on schedule: The book was thoroughly planned, and all the contributors were extremely responsive," Dinar said.
The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 20,500 students. The campus will open a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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University of California - Riverside

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