IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

14.4.4 Agriculture, forestry and fisheries


Research since the TAR supports the conclusion that moderate climate change will likely increase yields of North American rain-fed agriculture, but with smaller increases and more spatial variability than in earlier estimates (high confidence) (Reilly, 2002). Most studies project likely climate-related yield increases of 5 to 20% over the first decades of the century, with the overall positive effects of climate persisting through much or all of the 21st century. This pattern emerges from recent assessments for corn, rice, sorghum, soybean, wheat, common forages, cotton and some fruits (Adams et al., 2003; Polsky et al., 2003; Rosenberg et al., 2003; Tsvetsinskaya et al., 2003; Antle et al., 2004; Thomson et al., 2005b), including irrigated grains (Thomson et al., 2005b). Increased climate sensitivity is anticipated in the south-eastern U.S. and in the U.S. Cornbelt (Carbone et al., 2003), but not in the Great Plains (Mearns et al., 2003). Crops that are currently near climate thresholds (e.g., wine grapes in California) are likely to suffer decreases in yields, quality, or both, with even modest warming (medium confidence) (Hayhoe et al., 2004; White et al., 2006).

Recent integrated assessment model studies explored the interacting impacts of climate and economic factors on agriculture, water resources and biome boundaries in the conterminous U.S. (Edmonds and Rosenberg, 2005; Izaurralde et al., 2005; Rosenberg and Edmonds, 2005; Sands and Edmonds, 2005; Smith et al., 2005; Thomson et al., 2005a,b,c,d), concluding that scenarios with decreased precipitation create important challenges, restricting the availability of water for irrigation and at the same time increasing water demand for irrigated agriculture and urban and ecological uses.

The critical importance of specific agro-climatic events (e.g., last frost) introduces uncertainty in future projections (Mearns et al., 2003), as does continued debate about the CO2 sensitivity of crop growth (Long et al., 2005). Climate change is expected to improve the climate for fruit production in the Great Lakes region and eastern Canada but with risks of early season frost and damaging winter thaws (Bélanger et al., 2002; Winkler et al., 2002). For U.S. soybean yield, adjusting the planting date can reduce the negative effects of late season heat stress and can more than compensate for direct effects of climate change (Southworth et al., 2002).

Vulnerability of North American agriculture to climatic change is multi-dimensional and is determined by interactions among pre-existing conditions, indirect stresses stemming from climate change (e.g., changes in pest competition, water availability), and the sector’s capacity to cope with multiple, interacting factors, including economic competition from other regions as well as advances in crop cultivars and farm management (Parson et al., 2003). Water access is the major factor limiting agriculture in south-east Arizona, but farmers in the region perceive that technologies and adaptations such as crop insurance have recently decreased vulnerability (Vasquez-Leon et al., 2002). Areas with marginal financial and resource endowments (e.g., the U.S. northern plains) are especially vulnerable to climate change (Antle et al., 2004). Unsustainable land-use practices will tend to increase the vulnerability of agriculture in the U.S. Great Plains to climate change (Polsky and Easterling, 2001).


Across North America, impacts of climate change on commercial forestry potential are likely to be sensitive to changes in disturbances (Dale et al., 2001) from insects (Gan, 2004), diseases (Woods et al., 2005) and wildfires (high confidence) (see Box 14.1). Warmer summer temperatures are projected to extend the annual window of high fire ignition risk by 10-30%, and could result in increased area burned of 74-118% in Canada by 2100 (Brown et al., 2004; Flannigan et al., 2004). In the absence of dramatic increases in disturbance, effects of climate change on the potential for commercial harvest in one study for the 2040s ranged from mixed for a low emissions scenario (the EPPA LLH emissions scenario) to positive for a high emissions scenario (the EPPA HHL emissions scenario) (Perez-Garcia et al., 2002). Scenarios with increased harvests tend to lead to lower prices and, as a consequence, reduced harvests, especially in Canada (Perez-Garcia et al., 2002; Sohngen and Sedjo, 2005). The tendency for North American producers to suffer losses increases if climate change is accompanied by increased disturbance, with simulated losses averaging US$1 billion to 2 billion/yr over the 21st century (Sohngen and Sedjo, 2005). Increased tropospheric ozone could cause further decreases in tree growth (Karnosky et al., 2005). Risks of losses from Southern pine beetle likely depend on the seasonality of warming, with winter and spring warming leading to the greatest damage (Gan, 2004).

Warmer winters with more sporadic freezing and thawing are likely to increase erosion and landslides on forest roads, and reduce access for winter harvesting (Spittlehouse and Stewart, 2003).

Freshwater fisheries

Cold-water fisheries will likely be negatively affected by climate change; warm-water fisheries will generally gain; and the results for cool-water fisheries will be mixed, with gains in the northern and losses in the southern portions of ranges (high confidence) (Stefan et al., 2001; Rahel, 2002; Shuter et al., 2002; Mohseni et al., 2003; Fang et al., 2004). Salmonids, which prefer cold, clear water, are likely to experience the most negative impacts (Gallagher and Wood, 2003). Arctic freshwaters will likely be most affected, as they will experience the greatest warming (Wrona et al., 2005). Many warm-water and cool-water species will shift their ranges northward or to higher altitudes (Clark et al., 2001; Mohseni et al., 2003). In the continental U.S., cold-water species will likely disappear from all but the deeper lakes, cool-water species will be lost mainly from shallow lakes, and warm-water species will thrive except in the far south, where temperatures in shallow lakes will exceed survival thresholds (see Section 14.4.1) (Stefan et al., 2001). Species already listed as threatened will face increased risk of extinction (Chu et al., 2005), with pressures from climate exacerbated by the expansion of predatory species like smallmouth bass (Jackson and Mandrak, 2002). In Lake Erie, larval recruitment of river-spawning walleye will depend on temperature and flow changes, but lake-spawning stocks will likely decline due to the effects of warming and lower lake levels (Jones et al., 2006). Thermal habitat suitable for yellow perch will expand, while that for lake trout will contract (Jansen and Hesslein, 2004). While temperature increases may favour warm-water fishes like smallmouth bass, changes in water supply and flow regimes seem likely to have negative effects (Peterson and Kwak, 1999).