Future cereal production in China: the interaction of climate change, water availability and socio-economic scenarios

Xiong Wei, Declan Conway, Lin Erda, Xu Yinlong, Ju Hui, Jiang Jinhe, Ian Holman, Li Yan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


Food production in China is a fundamental component of the national economy and driver of agricultural policy. Sustaining and increasing output to meet growing demand faces significant challenges including climate change, increasing population, agricultural land loss and competing demands for water. Recent warming in China is projected to accelerate by climate models with associated changes in precipitation and frequency of extreme events. How changes in cereal production and water availability due to climate change will interact with other socio-economic pressures is poorly understood. By linking crop and water simulation models and two scenarios of climate (derived from the Regional Climate Model PRECIS) and socio-economic change (downscaled from IPCC SRES A2 and B2) we demonstrate that by the 2040s the absolute effects of climate change are relatively modest. The interactive effects of other drivers are negative, leading to decreases in total production of −18% (A2) and −9% (B2). Outcomes are highly dependent on climate scenario, socio-economic development pathway and the effects of CO2 fertilization on crop yields which may almost totally offset the decreases in production. We find that water availability plays a significant limiting role on future cereal production, due to the combined effects of higher crop water requirements (due to climate change) and increasing demand for non-agricultural use of water (due to socio-economic development). Without adaptation, per capita cereal production falls in all cases, by up to 40% of the current baseline.

By simulating the effects of three adaptation scenarios we show that for these future scenarios China is able to maintain per capita cereal production, given reasonable assumptions about policies on land and water management and progress in agricultural technology. Our results are optimistic because PRECIS simulates much wetter conditions than a multi-model average, the CO2 crop yield response function is highly uncertain and the effects of extreme events on crop growth and water availability are likely to be underestimated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-44
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Cite this