Rojas M, Lambert F, Ramirez-Villegas J, Challinor A (2019) Emergence of robust precipitation changes across crop production areas in the 21st century. PNAS, http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1811463116
Using 21st century climate model projections we show that for many crop-producing regions, average precipitation will change by more than the long-term natural variability, even under a low-emission scenario. However, emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement can significantly reduce cropped land affected. We identify the regions where adaptation measures are most needed.
A warming climate will affect regional precipitation and hence food supply. However, only a few regions around the world are currently undergoing precipitation changes that can be attributed to climate change. Knowing when such changes are projected to emerge outside natural variability—the time of emergence (TOE)—is critical for taking effective adaptation measures. Using ensemble climate projections, we determine the TOE of regional precipitation changes globally and in particular for the growing areas of four major crops. We find relatively early (<2040) emergence of precipitation trends for all four crops. Reduced (increased) precipitation trends encompass 1–14% (3–31%) of global production of maize, wheat, rice, and soybean. Comparing results for RCP8.5 and RCP2.6 clearly shows that emissions compatible with the Paris Agreement result in far less cropped land experiencing novel climates. However, the existence of a TOE, even under the lowest emission scenario, and a small probability for early emergence emphasize the urgent need for adaptation measures. We also show how both the urgency of adaptation and the extent of mitigation vary geographically.