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Journal Article

Global cotton production under climate change - Implications for yield and water consumption


Jans,  Yvonne
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


von Bloh,  Werner
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Schaphoff,  Sibyll
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Müller,  Christoph
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Jans, Y., von Bloh, W., Schaphoff, S., Müller, C. (in press): Global cotton production under climate change - Implications for yield and water consumption. - Hydrology and Earth System Sciences.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_25397
Being an extensively produced natural fiber on earth, cotton is of importance for economies. Although the plant is broadly adapted to varying environments, growth and irrigation water demand of cotton may be challenged by future climate change. To study the impacts of climate change on cotton productivity in different regions across the world and the irrigation water requirements related to it, we use the process-based, spatially detailed biosphere and hydrology model LPJmL. We find our modelled cotton yield levels in good agreement with reported values and simulated water consumption of cotton production similar to published estimates. Following the ISIMIP protocol, we employ an ensemble of five General Circulation Models under four Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) for the 2011–2099 period to simulate future cotton yields. We find that irrigated cotton production does not suffer from climate change if CO2 effects are considered, whereas rainfed production is more sensitive to varying climate conditions. Considering the overall effect of a changing climate and CO2 fertilization, cotton production on current cropland steadily increases for most of the RCPs. Starting from ~ 65 million tonnes in 2010, cotton production for RCP4.5 and RCP6.0 equates to 83 and 92 million tonnes at the end of the century, respectively. Under RCP8.5, simulated global cotton production raises by more than 50 % by 2099. Taking only climate change into account, projected cotton production considerably shrinks in most scenarios, by up to one-third or 43 million tonnes under RCP8.5. The simulation of future virtual water content (VWC) of cotton grown under elevated CO2 results for all scenarios in less VWC compared to ambient CO2 conditions. Under RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, VWC is notably decreased by more than 2000 m3 t−1 in areas where cotton is produced under purely rainfed conditions. By 2040, the average global VWC for cotton declines in all scenarios from currently 3300 to 3000 m3 t−1 and reduction continues by up to 30 % in 2100 under RCP8.5. While the VWC decreases by the CO2 effect, elevated temperature (and thus water stress) reverse the picture. Except for RCP2.6, the global VWC of cotton increase slightly but steadily under the other RCPs until mid century. RCP8.5 results in an average global VWC of more than 5000 m3 t−1 by end of the simulation period. Given the economic relevance of cotton production, climate change poses an additional stress and deserves special attention. Changes in VWC and water demands for cotton production are of special importance, as cotton production is known for its intense water consumption that led, e.g., to the loss of most of the Aral sea. The implications of climate impacts on cotton production on the one hand, and the impact of cotton production on water resources on the other hand illustrate the need to assess how future climate change may affect cotton production and its resource requirements. The inclusion of cotton in LPJmL allows for various large-scale studies to assess impacts of climate change on hydrological factors and the implications for agricultural production and carbon sequestration.