The global corn crop is vulnerable to the effects of climate change

Corn is the world’s most-produced food crop. But it could be headed for trouble as the Earth warms. A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that climate change will not only increase the risk of food shocks from world corn production but that these crop failures could occur simultaneously.

“Increased warming leads to global crop failures because plants are not adapted to really high temperatures,” explains Michelle Tigchelaar, a research associate at the University of Washington. “Most of our crops are really well-adapted for our current climate. There is an optimum temperature at which they grow and beyond that their yields decline. Extreme heat has really negative impacts on … the flowering of crops and also increases their water usage.”

Tigchelaar’s study looked at two warming scenarios: One in which the global mean temperature rises by two degrees Celsius, which is roughly in line with the Paris Agreement targets, and a second scenario of a four-degree warming, which is the temperature rise the world could see by the end of this century if humanity fails to change the way it currently does things.

With two degrees of warming, corn yields would decline by 20 to 40 percent in the main growing regions on Earth; a four-degree-warmer world would see 40 to 60 percent yield declines.

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