Climate Change & Agriculture

Climate change constitutes one of the main global threats we must face this century. Significant climate change impacts are already visible globally, and are expected to become more pronounced in the future.

For Europe, although there are important regional variations in the expected climate changes over the 21st century, these can be summarised as milder winters, hotter and drier summers and more frequent and intense extreme weather events (heat waves, droughts, floods etc). Southern Europe has already experienced and is expected to further experience in the future a significant warming and a decreasing trend in rainfall.

Climate change affects many economic sectors, with agriculture being one of the mostly exposed sectors, as it directly depends on climatic factors such as temperature, sunlight and precipitation for its viability. Although certain impacts of climate change may be beneficial, there will be severe consequences that can put agricultural activities at significant risk. At southern and warmer latitudes such as in the Mediterranean region, the potential negative impacts on crop yields are expected to significantly outweigh the potential positive impacts.

The negative impacts include reduced crop yields due to high temperatures, increased water demand for irrigation and reduced water availability due to prolonged periods of droughts and water scarcity, which will in turn lead to conflicting water demands between the agricultural and other sectors.

In fact, many southern European countries already face difficulties for meeting water demand for irrigation, which in many cases accounts for 50% (or more) of total water demand.

Moreover, the extensive exploitation of coastal aquifers for irrigation, may lead to seawater intrusion as well to water and soil salinization which can seriously damage plants and soils.

Negative effects on agriculture are expected to be exacerbated by damages to crops caused by extreme weather events.

Adverse impacts may also occur due to the climate change effects on soil fertility, such as increased vulnerability of soil organic matter and risk of soil erosion due to rising temperatures and higher occurrence of droughts and heavy rainfall events.

An increase in the proliferation of pests, diseases and weeds is also expected due to higher temperatures and humidity.