Crop yield research by David Lobell named best of 2014

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A July 2014 research paper co-authored by FSE deputy director David Lobell is one of 25 articles selected by the editors of the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters to be featured in the journal's Highlights of 2014 collection. The Editorial Board also recognized the paper as 'Highly Commended' during the vote for ERL's 'Best Article' for 2014.

In "Getting caught with our plants down: the risk of a global crop yield slowdown from climate trends in the next two decades," Lobell and co-author Claudia Tebaldi, a senior researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, find that the chance of a worldwide slowdown in yield growth for wheat and corn in the next 20 years is significantly higher due to global warming. With only natural climate variability the odds of a 10 percent yield drop over two decades - equivalent to a halving of the yield growth rate - are one in two hundred for wheat and corn. But under a scenario of human-induced climate change, the likelihood rises to one in ten for corn and one in twenty for wheat.

Lobell said these results are of particular interest to organizations working toward global food security and related issues that would be strongly impacted by falling crop yields in the next 20 years. 

“The people asking these questions are accustomed to planning for scenarios with much less than a 10 percent chance of happening, so it will be interesting to see whether this study has any effect on how they operate," Lobell said. “As scientists, we might prefer to work on time scales in which the answers are clearer, but we also want to be responsive to the actual concerns and questions that decision makers have.”

Lobell is associate professor of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford and associate director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. He is also a senior fellow at theStanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.