Soil cracked due to drought in Colombia

A growing problem

Agriculture: good news for some, bad news for most

One of the few benefits of climate change may be increased crop growth in temperate climates, thanks to warmer temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report notes that higher carbon dioxide levels could improve yields by raising photosynthesis rates, though it still notes the “big uncertainty in the magnitude of the CO2 effect and [its] interactions with other factors”.

Crop yields in low- and middle-income countries are likely to be hit hardest through droughts and flooding. Crop yields are predicted to fall by 50 per cent in Africa by 2020.

Coastal areas will suffer more from storm surges, erosion and rising sea levels. Seawater is likely to contaminate low-lying agricultural land. The spread of plant diseases is also likely to be affected.

Falls in agricultural productivity may lead to widespread malnutrition and hence social upheaval – such as migration to cities and civil unrest.

The IPCC is particularly concerned about scenarios in which climate change’s effects further increase competition for critical resources such as fresh water and land suitable for growing crops, especially when population growth is also an issue. The 2014 report predicts increased conflict over these resources.


Lead image:

Dried and cracked earth in Colombia.

Neil Palmer, CIAT/Flickr


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Statistics and maths, Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development