Knowledge for better food systems

Adapting to climate change will bring new environmental problems

This paper entitled The environmental impact of climate change adaptation on land use and water quality published in Nature Climate Change says that adaptation to climate change could have profound environmental repercussions, potentially generating further pressures and threats for both local and global ecosystems.

The research team at University of East Anglia looked at more than half a million records covering the whole of the UK, studying the interaction between agricultural land use and river water quality. The aim was to predict not only how climate change would lead to agricultural changes, but how these agricultural changes would impact water quality.


Encouraging adaptation is an essential aspect of the policy response to climate change. Adaptation seeks to reduce the harmful consequences and harness any beneficial opportunities arising from the changing climate. However, given that human activities are the main cause of environmental transformations worldwide, it follows that adaptation itself also has the potential to generate further pressures, creating new threats for both local and global ecosystems. From this perspective, policies designed to encourage adaptation may conflict with regulation aimed at preserving or enhancing environmental quality. This aspect of adaptation has received relatively little consideration in either policy design or academic debate. To highlight this issue, we analyse the trade-offs between two fundamental ecosystem services that will be impacted by climate change: provisioning services derived from agriculture and regulating services in the form of freshwater quality. Results indicate that climate adaptation in the farming sector will generate fundamental changes in river water quality. In some areas, policies that encourage adaptation are expected to be in conflict with existing regulations aimed at improving freshwater ecosystems. These findings illustrate the importance of anticipating the wider impacts of human adaptation to climate change when designing environmental policies.


Fezzi C, Harwood AR, Lovett AA, Bateman IJ. 2015. The environmental impact of climate change adaptation on land use and water quality. Nature Climate Change,; 5 (3): 255 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2525

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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