China’s remarkable recent surge in agricultural output is at risk from climate change. However, how much risk won’t be clear without better regional climate predictions and understanding of how crops will react to their altered environment. That’s according to Peking University’s Shilong Piao and his colleagues. “Climate simulations point to serious potential vulnerabilities in China’s future agricultural security,” they wrote in top journal Nature on Thursday, “but extensive uncertainties prevent a definitive conclusion.”
In part those uncertainties come from Chinese farming’s success over the past four decades, increasing rice, maize and wheat yields by 90, 150 and 240 percent respectively. These improvements are vital as the country has just 7 percent of the world’s arable farmland available to feed 22 percent of the world’s population. However, they also obscure the impact of more frequent heat-waves, retreating glaciers and an average 1.2ºC temperature rise in China since 1960. “The improvements of crop management have been so important that they prevent a clear conclusion on the net impact of historical climate change on agriculture,” the team writes.