UK - Adaptation measures to help us cope with climate change have the potential to generate further threats for both local and global ecosystems, according to a new study from the University of East Anglia.
Lead researcher Dr Carlo Fezzi said: “Climate change is a just a little bit more complicated than we previously thought.
"We need to take into account not only the direct impact of climate change, but also how people will respond to such change - the impact of adaptation.
“This is a whole new dimension to the climate change adaptation debate.”
The research team looked at the interaction between agricultural land use and river water quality, both of which will be heavily impacted by climate change.
They studied land use and river quality from more than half a million records covering the whole of the UK and dating back to the early 1970s. They used computer models to predict not only how climate change would lead to agricultural changes, but how these agricultural changes would impact water quality.
Dr Fezzi said: “We found that a moderately warmer climate in the range of between 1°C and 3°C will be mainly beneficial for agriculture in Great Britain. Particularly in the eastern uplands and midlands, warmer temperatures will boots crop yield and allow for more livestock.
"But some localised losses can be expected - particularly in the east of England, where lower rainfall may increase the risk of drought.
“This intensification in agricultural practices in response to climate change, however, will also create new environmental pressures. For example changes in the agricultural sector will have a knock on effect for water quality – because they will cause increased amounts of nitrates and phosphates in streams and rivers.
“This will particularly impact the eastern uplands and midlands where temperature rises will allow significant increases in agricultural production. It will significantly increase the effort necessary to achieve water quality standards required by the EU.
“But the problem is not restricted to water quality. Adaptation may have an impact on water availability, wildlife, biodiversity, carbon policies, and the amount of recreation space.
“And of course farming is not the only industry that may need to adapt to a warmer climate. Energy demand and production, fisheries, forestry and health services would all need to adapt as well, and each would have its own knock on effects."
These findings illustrate the importance of anticipating the wider impacts of human adaptation to climate change when designing environmental policies.
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