Climate change and food systems

Climate change and the policy implications for agriculture and fisheries

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our era. Rising temperatures and sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns and water temperatures, ocean acidification and more frequent and intense extreme weather events, will all affect how and where we produce our food.

Food production systems need to adapt to climate change

Climate change will increase pressure on land and water while reducing yield growth, with the exception of only a few regions. Productivity is expected to decrease for about half of fisheries worldwide as a result of climate change impacts on stock productivity and on fish migration patterns. This will hurt the tropics the most, but also OECD fisheries.

Over time, farmers, aquaculture producers and fishers will be under increasing pressure to adapt their practices and technologies to meet these challenges. While there is much that people can do on their own, in the worst cases, government policies will be essential to successful climate change adaptation.

Ongoing OECD work looks into how inclusive and science-based policy-making processes can best support the adoption and implementation of needed policies such as disaster recovery and catastrophic insurance as well as policies to improve co-operation, preparedness, and resilience.

Food policy must take climate change into account

Following the Paris Agreement from the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21), stronger mitigation efforts are being embraced worldwide to slow down global warming. Many countries have revisited their mitigation plans to strengthen their effectiveness or to find new solutions.

The agriculture sector, together with forestry and other land uses, contributes about a quarter of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Almost half of this share comes from direct agricultural emissions, mainly from livestock, with most of the rest from deforestation of which agriculture is the main driver. Emissions from the global fishing industry are only 4% of emissions from food production but grew by 28% between 1990 and 2011, with little coinciding increase in production.

Emission reductions from food production have so far received less attention in GHG mitigation policies than those from energy, transport and other industrial sectors; consequently emissions from agriculture could become the dominant source of global emissions by mid-century. Therefore, meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5oC warming targets will be impossible without the sector doing its part to tackle climate change.

OECD work identifies policy solutions that can unlock the large mitigation potential of food production, while helping the agri-food sectors in all regions to maintain their competitiveness. Policies at the international, national and sector levels must work together to avoid simply shifting carbon emissions from one place to another. In low-income countries, all this must be accomplished without causing food insecurity.

Latest update

The Role of Agriculture in Global GHG Mitigation

This report reviews the GHG mitigation practices and policies available to agriculture, and finds that it can make a substantial contribution to limiting global warming to less than 2oC by the end of the century.


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