Water-limited crop productivity
- Yields of several crops are stagnating (e.g. wheat in some European countries) or decreasing (e.g. grapes in Spain), whereas yields of other crops (e.g. maize in northern Europe) are increasing. These effects are attributed partly due to observed climate change, in particular warming.
- Extreme climatic events, including droughts and heat waves, have negatively affected crop productivity during the first decade of the 21st century. Projected increases in extreme climatic events are expected to further increase yield variability in the future.
- Crop yields are affected by the combined effects of changes in temperature, rainfall and atmospheric CO2 concentration. Future climate change can lead to both decreases and increases in yield, depending on the crop type and the climatic and management conditions in the region.
How is climate change affecting the water-limited productivity of agricultural crops across Europe?
Projected changes in effective solar radiation from two climate models
Note: The map shows the mean changes in effective solar radiation (MJ m-2), which is an indicator for water-limited crop productivity, for the period 2031–2050 compared with 1975–1994 for the RACMO (KNMI) and HadRCM3 (Hadley Centre.HC) projections under the A1B emission scenario.
- Changes in flowering and maturity time of cereals in Northern Europe under climate change provided by University of Aarhus
Projected changes in water-limited crop yield
Note: This figure shows the mean relative changes in water-limited crop yield simulated by the ClimateCrop model for the 2050s compared with 1961–1990 for 12 different climate models projections under the A1B emission scenario.
- Looking into the future of agriculture in a changing climate provided by Universidad Politecnica de Madrid
Simulated change in water-limited wheat production
Note: The figure shows the simulated change in water-limited wheat production for 2030 compared with 2000 for the A1B emission scenario using a cold (ECHAM5) (left) and a warm (HADCM3) (right) climate change projection. The simulation was performed on a 25x25 km grid (assuming current area of wheat cropping) but the results are presented here at the NUTS-2 level.
- Assessing agriculture vulnerabilities for the design of effective measures for adaption to climate change (AVEMAC project) provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
A global analysis of yields of cereal crops (wheat, maize and barley) has shown that increasing mean temperatures in recent decades had a negative effect on yield [i]. Similar effects have been observed for various countries in Europe. Increasing temperatures have been identified as one of the main causes for the lack of yield increase of winter wheat in France despite improvements in crop breeding [ii]. Grain yields in southern Europe seem to have been stagnating. There is also a tendency for increasing variability of grain yields in France and Italy, linked to occurrence of heat waves and droughts [iii]. In Italy and southern central Europe, the potential crop yields of potato, wheat, maize, and barley significantly decreased over the time period 1976-2005 due to temperature and radiation change effects [iv]. Droughts and heat waves affected the crop production in large areas of southern and central Europe in 2003 and 2007 [v]. An increase of climate-induced variability in maize yield over recent decades was observed in France [vi].
Climate change also showed positive effects on yields. Potato and sugar beet have responded positively to the increasing temperatures by increasing yields, most likely due to longer growing seasons [vii]. In Scotland, increasing temperatures have increased the potential potato yield by up to 39% over the period 1960-2006 [viii]. In parts of the UK and parts of northern central Europe, the yield potential of wheat, sugar beet and maize increased since 1976 [ix]. Grain yields in maize have been steadily increasing in northern Europe [x].
The impact of future changes in climate on crop yield depends on the characteristics of the climatic change within a region as well as on a combination of other environmental, economic, technological and management factors [xi]. The index of effective solar radiation sum was developed as a proxy for the effects of environmental changes on crop productivity. This index estimates the potential for rain-fed crop production by integrating the daily solar radiation on those days where neither temperature nor soil moisture is limiting for growth assuming a standard soil across the entire continent. The effects of enhanced atmospheric CO2 levels on crop productivity are not considered [xii].
Figure 1 shows the projected changes in effective radiation sum for the 2040s for climate projections from two different climate models. Both projections show reduced production potential in large parts of southern Europe and increases in the far north, but they differ substantially for areas in-between. A broader analysis of climate change scenarios for agricultural productivity in Europe has provided a clear picture of deterioration of agro-climatic conditions from increased drought stress and a shortening of active growing season across large parts of southern and central Europe [xiii]. Another study suggests the risk of an increasing number of unfavourable years for agricultural production in many European climatic zones, limiting winter crop expansion and increasing the risk of cereal yield loss [xiv].
The Figure 2 shows projected crop yield changes based on the ClimateCrop model, which estimates the combined effects of projected changes in temperature, rainfall as well as CO2 concentration across Europe, considering certain management changes thus incorporating effects of adaptation [xv]. Figure 2 shows the same overall picture as in Figure 1 of decreases in yields along the Mediterranean and large increases in Scandinavia. Small changes in crop yields are projected throughout large parts of western and central Europe.
Figure 3 shows changes in water-limited wheat production in Europe by 2030 for climate projections from two different climate models, including also the effects of enhanced CO2 concentrations [xvi]. The results indicate that different climate models can lead to large differences in projected impacts, with both yield increases and decreases possible in northern and southern Europe. The same study shows large differences in simulated yield changes between different crops, climate model projections and time horizons. These model estimates do not consider adaptation to climate change, such as changes in crop species and varieties and changes in crop management. A study on the potential effectiveness of adaptation by farmers in southern and central Europe by 2040 suggests that the adaptation potential to future warming is large for maize but limited for wheat and barley [xvii].
[i] David B. Lobell and Christopher B. Field, ‘Global Scale Climate - Crop Yield Relationships and the Impacts of Recent Warming’,Environmental Research Letters 2, no. 1 (March 2007), doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/1/014002.
[ii] Nadine Brisson et al., ‘Why Are Wheat Yields Stagnating in Europe? A Comprehensive Data Analysis for France’,Field Crops Research 119, no. 1 (9 October 2010): 201–12, doi:10.1016/j.fcr.2010.07.012.
[iii] J.E. Olesen et al., ‘Impacts and Adaptation of European Crop Production Systems to Climate Change’,European Journal of Agronomy 34, no. 2 (February 2011): 96–112, doi:10.1016/j.eja.2010.11.003.
[iv] Supit et al., ‘Recent Changes in the Climatic Yield Potential of Various Crops in Europe’,Agricultural Systems 103, no. 9 (2010): 683–94.
[v] Pirjo Peltonen-Sainio et al., ‘Coincidence of Variation in Yield and Climate in Europe’,Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 139, no. 4 (December 2010): 483–89, doi:10.1016/j.agee.2010.09.006.
[vi] Ed Hawkins et al., ‘Increasing Influence of Heat Stress on French Maize Yields from the 1960s to the 2030s’,Global Change Biology 19, no. 3 (1 March 2013): 937–47, doi:10.1111/gcb.12069.
[vii] Peltonen-Sainio et al., ‘Coincidence of Variation in Yield and Climate in Europe’; P. Peltonen-Sainio, L. Jauhiainen, and K. Hakala, ‘Crop Responses to Temperature and Precipitation according to Long-Term Multi-Location Trials at High-Latitude Conditions’,The Journal of Agricultural Science 149, no. 01 (2011): 49–62, doi:10.1017/S0021859610000791.
[viii] Peter J. Gregory and Bruce Marshall, ‘Attribution of Climate Change: A Methodology to Estimate the Potential Contribution to Increases in Potato Yield in Scotland since 1960’,Global Change Biology 18, no. 4 (1 April 2012): 1372–88, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02601.x.
[ix] Supit et al., ‘Recent Changes in the Climatic Yield Potential of Various Crops in Europe’.
[x] Olesen et al., ‘Impacts and Adaptation of European Crop Production Systems to Climate Change’.
[xi] P. Reidsma et al., ‘Adaptation to Climate Change and Climate Variability in European Agriculture: The Importance of Farm Level Responses’,European Journal of Agronomy 32, no. 1 (Enero 2010): 91–102, doi:10.1016/j.eja.2009.06.003.
[xii] M Trnka et al., ‘Expected Changes in Agroclimatic Conditions in Central Europe’,Climatic Change 108 (5 March 2011): 261–89, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0025-9.
[xiii] M. Trnka et al., ‘Agroclimatic Conditions in Europe under Climate Change’,Global Change Biology 17, no. 7 (1 July 2011): 2298–2318, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02396.x.
[xiv] Peltonen-Sainio, Jauhiainen, and Hakala, ‘Crop Responses to Temperature and Precipitation according to Long-Term Multi-Location Trials at High-Latitude Conditions’; R. Rötter et al., ‘Crop-Climate Models Need an Overhaul’,Nature Climate Change 1 (2011): 175–77, doi:10.1038/nclimate1152.
[xv] Ana Iglesias, Sonia Quiroga, and Agustin Diz, ‘Looking into the Future of Agriculture in a Changing Climate’,European Review of Agricultural Economics 38, no. 3 (2011): 427–47, doi:10.1093/erae/jbr037.
[xvi] M. Donatelli et al.,Assessing Agriculture Vulnerabilities for the Design of Effective Measures for Adaption to Climate Change (AVEMAC Project), EUR 25249 (Luxembourg: European Commission, Joint Research Centre, 2012), http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/analysis/external/avemac/full_text_en.pdf; M. Donatelli et al., ‘Estimating Impact Assessment and Adaptation Strategies under Climate Change Scenarios for Crops at EU27 Scale’ (presented at the 2012 International Congress on Environmental Modelling and Software Managing Resources of a Limited Planet, Sixth Biennial Meeting, Leipzig, 2012), http://www.iemss.org/sites/iemss2012//proceedings/A6_0757_Srivastava_et_al.pdf.
[xvii] Frances C. Moore and David B. Lobell, ‘Adaptation Potential of European Agriculture in Response to Climate Change’,Nature Climate Change advance online publication (18 May 2014), doi:10.1038/nclimate2228.W
Indicator specification and metadata
- Projected changes in effective solar radiation
- Projected changes in water-limited crop yield
- Projected change in water-limited wheat production
- tons/NUTS-2 region
Policy context and targets
In April 2013 the European Commission presented the EU Adaptation Strategy Package (http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/adaptation/what/documentation_en.htm). This package consists of the EU Strategy on adaptation to climate change /* COM/2013/0216 final */ and a number of supporting documents. One of the objectives of the EU Adaptation Strategy is Better informed decision-making, which should occur through Bridging the knowledge gap and Further developing Climate-ADAPT as the ‘one-stop shop’ for adaptation information in Europe. Further objectives include Promoting action by Member States and Climate-proofing EU action: promoting adaptation in key vulnerable sectors. Many EU Member States have already taken action, such as by adopting national adaptation strategies, and several have also prepared action plans on climate change adaptation.
The European Commission and the European Environment Agency have developed the European Climate Adaptation Platform (Climate-ADAPT, http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/) to share knowledge on observed and projected climate change and its impacts on environmental and social systems and on human health; on relevant research; on EU, national and subnational adaptation strategies and plans; and on adaptation case studies.
No targets have been specified.
Related policy documents
Climate-ADAPT: Mainstreaming adaptation in EU sector policies
Overview of EU sector policies in which mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change is ongoing or explored
Climate-ADAPT: National adaptation strategies
Overview of activities of EEA member countries in preparing, developing and implementing adaptation strategies
DG CLIMA: Adaptation to climate change
Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. This webportal provides information on all adaptation activities of the European Commission.
EU Adaptation Strategy Package
In April 2013 the European Commission adopted an EU strategy on adaptation to climate change which has been welcomed by the EU Member States. The strategy aims to make Europe more climate-resilient. By taking a coherent approach and providing for improved coordination, it will enhance the preparedness and capacity of all governance levels to respond to the impacts of climate change.
Methodology for indicator calculation
Projected changes in effective solar radiation are taken from two climate models, which is an indicator for water limited crop productivity, for the period 2031-2050 compared with 1975-1994 for the KNMI and Hadley Centre (HC) climate model projections under the A1B emission scenario.
The mean relative changes in water-limited crop yield are simulated by the ClimateCrop model for the 2050s compared with 1961–1990 for 12 different climate models projections under the A1B emission scenario. The ClimateCrop model was applied to explore the combined effects of projected changes in temperature, rainfall and CO2 concentration across Europe, considering effects of adaptation. The mean projected changes show a pattern of decreases in yields along the Mediterranean and large increases in Scandinavia. However, throughout large parts of western and central Europe mean changes in crop yields are likely to be small.
The simulated change in water-limited wheat production for 2030 compared with 2000 was estimated for the A1B emission scenario using a cold (ECHAM5) (left) and a warm (HADCM3) (right) climate change projection. The production changes are shown for 25x25 km grids assuming current area of wheat cropping.
Methodology for gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
Effects of climate change on the growing season and crop phenology can be monitored directly, partly through remote sensing (growing season) and partly through monitoring of specific phenological events such as flowering. There is no common monitoring network for crop phenology in Europe, and data on this therefore has to be based on various national recordings, often from agronomic experiments. Crop yield and crop requirements for irrigation are not only affected by climate change, but also by management and a range of socio-economic factors. The effects of climate change on these factors therefore have to be estimated indirectly using agrometeorological indicators and through statistical analyses between climatic variables and factors such as crop yield.
The projections of climate change impacts and adaptation in agriculture rely heavily on modelling, and it needs to be recognised that there is often a chain of uncertainty involved in the projections going from emission scenario, through climate modelling, downscaling and to assessments of impacts using an impact model. The extent of all these uncertainties is rarely quantified, even though some studies have assessed uncertainties related to individual components. The crop modelling community has only recently started addressing uncertainties related to modelling impacts of climate change on crop yield and effect of possible adaptation options, and so far only few studies have involved livestock systems. Future studies also need to better incorporate effects of extreme climate events as well as biotic hazards (e.g. pests and diseases).
Further information on uncertainties is provided in Section 1.7 of the EEA report on Climate change, impacts, and vulnerability in Europe 2012 (http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/climate-impacts-and-vulnerability-2012/)
No uncertainty has been specified
Assessing agriculture vulnerabilities for the design of effective measures for adaption to climate change (AVEMAC project)
provided by Joint Research Centre (JRC)
Looking into the future of agriculture in a changing climate
provided by Universidad Politecnica de Madrid
Climate change (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CLIM 032
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoHans-Martin Füssel
EEA Management Plan2014 1.4.1 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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