September 2013 - December 2015

Climate variability and global food security, with an eye on France


Eric Guilyardi
University of Reading
  • Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
  • William Wrigley Professor of Earth System Science
  • Senior Fellow, Stanford Woods Institute and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
  • Professor, by courtesy, Economics

Extreme weather events and climate variability threaten crop production, food prices, food security, and human lives at local and global scales. Ten years ago, a record heat wave killed over 30,000 people and seriously damaged crop yields in France and northern Italy; summertime heat waves and associated droughts have subsequently decimated maize and soy yields in the U.S. and wheat yields in Russia, causing global food prices to soar. Agricultural production shocks in one part of the world can have wide-ranging effects on food security in distant regions through market dynamics, and sudden spikes in food prices are especially damaging to the world’s poor, who spend a large share of their incomes on food. Understanding the nature of extreme climate events and climate variability, and assessing how climate fluctuations affect global food security through volatility in agricultural markets (prices, trade, and policy) form the foundations for our research project.

The primary motivation of this project is to establish an interdisciplinary collaboration between FSE and the Institut Pierre Simon Laplace (IPSL) in Paris that will foster undergraduate and PhD training and research. Through a series of visits across institutions, joint seminars, and the launch of a new research project, our hope is to bring food security studies to the climate impacts group at IPSL, and to bring new climate dynamics research to Stanford (FSE). The project will also help to promote the integration of climate dynamics, agricultural modeling, economics, and policy analysis on an area of climate science that is poorly understood by the economics and policy community—multi-decadal variability. As our collaboration develops further, our goal is to improve the ability of countries to anticipate and adapt to weather extremes and patterns of climate variability that precipitate market shocks and food insecurity.

This project will focus on climate dynamics that are relevant to Europe’s agricultural regions, with an emphasis on wheat in France. Although France has a relatively small agricultural area, it has among the highest wheat yields in the world; as a result, unexpected (climate-induced) fluctuations in crop production influence global price movements for wheat and its substitutes in production and consumption. In this project we will: 1) assess climate forecast products for short- and medium-term (season to decade) patterns of climate variability directly affecting France; 2) use these forecast products to model expected patterns of variability in wheat production in France and related global food price, trade, and policy responses; and 3) integrate the science, economics, and policy components of the project to begin to design adaptation strategies that will mitigate food insecurity.