Meta-analysis of recent scientific evidence on climate impacts and uncertainty on crop yields in Europe

Jerry Knox


Projected changes in temperature, rainfall and soil moisture could threaten agricultural land use and crop productivity in Europe, with major consequences for food security (Daccache et al., 2014). We assessed the projected impacts of climate change on the yield of seven crops (viz wheat, barley, maize, potato, sugar beet, rice and rye) in Europe using a systematic review (SR) and meta-analysis of data reported in 67 original publications from an initial screening of 1424 studies. Whilst similar studies exist for Africa and South Asia (Roudier et al., 2011; Knox et al., 2012), surprisingly, no such comparable synthesis has been undertaken for Europe. Our study focussed on the biophysical impacts of climate change on productivity (i.e. yield per unit area) and did not consider ‘food production’ as this is dependent on many ‘non-biophysical’ factors, such as international trade policy and world markets. The data relate to the projected mean yield variations for each crop type, for all crop models, all GCM models and all time slices.

For Europe, most studies projected a positive impact on yield; the reported increases largely being due to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations enhancing both productivity and resource use efficiencies. Overall, a mean yield increase of +14% was identified, but with large differences between individual crops (e.g. wheat +22%; potato +12%) and regions (e.g. northern Europe +17%; southern Europe +7%). It is important to note that projected yield data were not available for all crops in all regions, so lack of a significant response may in part be due to the absence, or limited number of studies for certain crops and/or regions. Furthermore, the results include all reported yield projections, for all time slices, for all GCM combinations (whether single or ensemble) and for all crop modelling approaches (whether based on simple statistical trends or more complex biophysical modelling approaches). This highlights the magnitude of variability that exists when all possible sources of uncertainty are included. Further statistical analyses were conducted to disaggregate the data by time slice, climate and crop model to identify which factors were likely to contribute most to yield variations and uncertainty.

The SR showed that evidence of climate change impacts on crop yield in Europe is extensive for wheat, maize, sugar beet and potato but very limited for barley, rice and rye. Interpreting the reported yield observations was compounded by ‘effect modifiers’ or reasons for heterogeneity. These included different emission scenarios and climate ensembles, implicit assumptions regarding crop varieties, the agricultural systems studied, and assumed levels of mechanization and crop husbandry. Despite its limitations, the SR helps identify where further research should be targeted and regions where adaptation will be most needed. It confirms that climate change is likely to increase productivity of Europe’s major agricultural cropping systems, with more favourable impacts in northern and central Europe.



Daccache A., Ciurana J.S., Rodriguez Diaz J.A., and Knox J.W (2014) Water and energy footprint of irrigated agriculture in the Mediterranean region. Environmental Research Letters).

Knox, J.W., Hess, T.M., Daccache, A., and Wheeler, T. (2012). Climate change impacts on crop productivity in Africa and South Asia. Environmental Research Letters Volume 7 034032.

Roudier, P., Sultan, B., Quirion, P., and Berg, A. (2011). The impact of future climate change on West African crop yields: What does the recent literature say? Global Environmental Change 21: 1073–1083.

Authors: Jerry Knox, Andre Daccache, Tim Hess and Benson Sumani

Affiliation: Cranfield Water Science Institute, Cranfield University, Cranfield, Bedfordshire, MK43 0AL, UK

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