Improving Crop Model Use in Risk Assessment

By: Jenna Behrendt

PHOTO 1 | How crop-climate modelling studies should calculate both impacts and adaptation.

Improving the use of crop models for risk assessment and climate change adaptation, published in the Agricultural Systems Special Issue Volume 155, shares best practices and expert established criteria for crop model use in assessing climate impacts, adaptation and risk. These criteria were created by lead author Andrew J. Challinor and his research team, and shared with other authors in the special issue for feedback.

Once finalized, the criteria was used to outline risk assessment best practices and to evaluate means of improving climate change risk framing with the goal of improved modeling techniques and results.

Risk assessment best practices

After reviewing risk assessment frameworks, crop model developments, crop-climate ensembles methodology, and adaptation assessments, the research team found the following list of best practices:

Developing crop models with a focus on spatial scale and complexity: model selection should be appropriate for the scale and application.
Using model skill and/or spread to form crop-climate ensembles: objective criteria should be used to weigh and select ensemble members to reduce uncertainty.
Broadening methods used to assess adaptation: currently models are limited in the number of adaptation practices that can be accessed. Increasing adaptation options for assessment will enable a more comprehensive evaluation.

Targeted use of models for risk assessment and adaptation

The Paris Agreement has prompted international interest in developing risk assessments that can differentiate between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees of global warming. However, large inter-model variability due to varying methodological choices and spatial variability makes this level of precision difficult. Models capable of the distinction between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees of global warming should use multiple perspectives within a single framework or research question. To develop these targeted models, the study identifies the following strategies:

Working with stakeholders to identify the timing of risks: models are predicting food risk timing with increasing detail, but translating this analysis into adaptation action requires stakeholder participation.
Thinking outside the gridbox: modeling assessments don’t always adequately capture all relevant information. Scientists should be wary of the limitations of modeling and consider non-spatial representation of climate impacts to complement modeling results.
Increasing transparency and inter-comparability: frameworks and assumptions for models need to be clearly stated to increase comparability across risk assessment methods. Further, adoption of the criteria established by this study would facilitate comparisons across and among climate risk assessments.

This research suggests that focusing on frameworks, crop modeling and ensembles can improve adaptation assessment (Figure 1). Developing standardized criteria for crop model use in risk assessment will enable future studies to create targeted models and inform decision-making.

improving the use of crop models for risk assessment FIGURE 1 | Summary of key issues identified by our analysis. The structure shows how fundamental work on frameworks, crop models and ensembles are used to improve adaptation studies and ultimately target models towards stakeholder-relevant risk assessments. From Challinor et al. Improving the use of crop models for risk assessment and climate change adaptation, Agricultural Systems, 155.