From Russia: More heat, less wheat

FSE Center Fellow David Lobell contributes a commentary to Climate Central on the recent heat wave in Russia, its impact on wheat production and global prices, and what rising temperatures mean in the larger context of climate change and food security.

The heat wave in Russia has captured international media attention, breaking temperature records left and right. It has also captured the attention of commodity traders. You see, in a typical year Russia produces about as much wheat as the United States, and is among the top exporters of wheat flour in the world. But this year, wheat has been decimated in the areas around Moscow, with yield expected to be 30 percent or so below normal. This week Russia announced they are banning all exports of wheat from August 15 through the end of the year. Since late June, wheat prices on the Chicago Board of Trade have risen by 50 percent, to more than $7 a bushel.

It is, and always will be, impossible to say whether a single event is caused by climate change. But we can ask, is this the type of thing we expect to be more common? In terms of warming, we can say with little doubt that heat waves like this will become more common with global warming. Exactly how much more common is tough to say, but it is likely that the average summer in 2050 will be as warm as the warmest summer in the 20th century. I am not aware of anyone who has done the calculation of exactly how common the type of heat experienced this year will be, but based on projections in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports one can suspect this type of heat wave will be relatively common in Russia in a few decades.