As President Joe Biden told world leaders at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit on Monday that the next decade should be spent on fighting climate change, a new NASA study revealed climate change will be leaving its mark on Earth’s crops as early as 2030.
The researchers, whose study was published Monday in the in the journal Nature Food, made the determination by using advanced climate models to see the rate of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century. Then the team used those results combined with crop projection models that show how certain crops respond to different environmental conditions.
“What we’re doing is driving crop simulations that are effectively growing virtual crops day-by-day, powered by a supercomputer, and then looking at the year-by-year and decade-by-decade change in each location of the world,” Alex Ruane, co-director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies Climate Impacts Group and co-author of the study, said in a statement.
The results of the models showed crops worldwide would be affected much earlier than had been thought.
“Results suggest markedly more pessimistic yield responses for maize, soybean and rice compared to the original ensemble,” the study reads. “The ‘emergence’ of climate impacts consistently occurs earlier in the new projections – before 2040 for several main producing regions.”
Under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario, the planet’s corn crop yield is expected to be the most severely damaged. The effect is expected to be noticeable by the end of the decade and show a 24% decline by 2100.
“We did not expect to see such a fundamental shift,” said Jonas Jägermeyr, lead author and climate scientist at NASA and Columbia University. “A 20% decrease from current production levels could have severe implications worldwide.”
Corn is grown all throughout the world, but it is produced in large quantities near the equator. But rising global temperatures could put more stress on the plants, according to NASA, meaning corn yields in countries like the United States, Brazil and China could decline.
Other crops like soybeans and rice also showed drops in production, but results weren’t conclusive enough on how severe the decrease would be.
Not all the projections were negative, though. The models showed that the global yield of wheat would actually increase about 17%. Wheat crops typically grow best in temperate climates, but rising temperatures could mean the crops could expand into other areas, such as the northern parts of the U.S. But projections showed the increase would stop around 2050.
The reason wheat would see an increase as opposed to the other crops is because the expected rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can aid photosynthesis and water retention. Yet the rising temperatures also could accelerate how crops grow, and Ruane said that if crops grow too quickly, yields will drop.
NASA hopes the study will help in researching how lower crop yields would affect the planet’s economy and farming practices as regions respond to the changes during the century.
“Even under optimistic climate change scenarios, where societies enact ambitious efforts to limit global temperature rise, global agriculture is facing a new climate reality,” Jägermeyr said. “And with the interconnectedness of the global food system, impacts in even one region’s breadbasket will be felt worldwide.”
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.