Estimated impacts of emission reductions on wheat and maize crops

Journal Article
Climatic Change journal cover

We assess the benefits of climate change mitigation for global maize and wheat production over the 21st century by comparing outcomes under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 as simulated by two large initial condition ensembles from NCAR’s Community Earth System Model. We use models of the relation between climate variables, CO2 concentrations, and yields built on observations and then project this relation on the basis of simulated future temperature and precipitation and CO2 trajectories under the two scenarios, for short (2021–2040), medium (2041–2060) and long (2061–2080) time horizons. We focus on projected mean yield impacts, chances of significant slowdowns in yield, and exposure to damaging heat during critical periods of the growing seasons, the last of which is not explicitly considered in yield impacts by most models, including ours. We find that substantial benefits from mitigation would be achieved throughout the 21st century for maize, in terms of reducing (1) the size of average yield impacts, with mean losses for maize under RCP8.5 reduced under RCP4.5 by about 25 %, 40 % and 50 % as the time horizon lengthens over the 21st century; (2) the risk of major slowdowns over a 10 or 20 year period, with maize chances under RCP4.5 being reduced up to ~75 % by the end of the century compared to those estimated under RCP8.5; and (3) exposure to critical or “lethal” heat extremes, with the number of extremely hot days under RCP8.5 roughly triple current levels by end of century, compared to a doubling for RCP4.5. For wheat, we project small or occasionally negative effects of mitigation for projected yields, because of stronger CO2 fertilization effects than in maize, but substantial benefits of mitigation remain in terms of exposure to extremely high temperatures.

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