Press Releases

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions could avoid a half to two-thirds of the impacts of climate change on food and water – University of Reading

Release Date : 09 December 2009

Research by scientists at the University of Reading's Walker Institute shows that stringent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may avoid between a half and two-thirds of the impacts of climate change on food crops, flooding and water availability by the end of the century.

Professors Nigel Arnell and Tim Wheeler, of the Walker Institute, have contributed their results to a project led by the Met Office, which is providing advice to the UK government at the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen and beyond.

Results from the project are to be presented at the Copenhagen conference today (Wed 9 Dec).

Professor Nigel Arnell, Director of the Walker Institute, says: "Reducing greenhouse gas emission is vital to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but it won't avoid the impacts altogether. Adaptation to the climate change we can't avoid is as important as measures to control greenhouse gas emissions.

"The most stringent scenario we've considered has greenhouse gas emissions peaking in the year 2016 and then reducing by 5% per year. That's likely to keep global warming below 2 degrees C and it could reduce by half the number of people exposed to increased water stress.

"Under the scenarios we're examined, most of the benefits are seen in Central America, Africa and India. However, such mitigation measures could still leave 400 million people exposed to increased water stress by the end of the century."

Professor Tim Wheeler has examined the effect of climate change on food crops. He says: "If we look at soybean, a major global food crop used both as a protein source and for oil, climate change could reduce global yields by 60% in some centres of production by 2100. Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by 5% per year from 2016 could still mean yield reductions of almost 40% by 2100."

The benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions vary between sectors and regions. The earlier emissions begin to be reduced, the greater the avoided impacts on food and water. The majority of the benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions may be difficult to identify until the 2050s, and become progressively larger through the century.

The project has looked at a range of scenarios of greenhouse gas emission reductions and represents the most comprehensive study to date of how reducing greenhouse gas emissions could help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

Notes to editors:

For all University of Reading media enquiries please contact Rona Cheeseman, Press Officer tel 0118 378 7388 or email

Professors Arnell and Wheeler are available for comment from the UK.

The work reported here is part of a UK programme, called AVOID <>, to provide key advice to the UK government on avoiding dangerous climate change. The programme is led by the Met Office in a consortium with the Walker Institute, Tyndall Centre and Grantham Institute and is funded by DECC and Defra.

Some of the research reported above was done under the NERC QUEST-GSI project.

The University of Reading's Walker Institute for Climate System Research aims to improve understanding of future climate and its impacts. See


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