New Study Shows Uneven Way Climate Change May Affect Wheat Prices

It is impossible to overstate how dependent we humans are on wheat and how devastating the impact of climate change on wheat crops could be. According to recent research by One Earth, a non-profit dedicated to combatting climate change, wheat provides roughly 20% of all calories abd protein for over 3.5 billion people across 94 nations; That's almost half of the world's total population, which currently sits just under 8 billion, per the United Nations. All those lives are at risk as climate change takes its toll on wheat crops, but the effects will not be felt equally.

Climate change is already causing food prices to skyrocket, leading to widespread fears among consumers as to whether they will be able to afford the food they're accustomed to — on top of other living expenses. The Paris Climate Agreement, as the Natural Resources Defense Council explains, aims to limit the global temperature increase in this century to under 2 degrees Celsius of warming, but One Earth warns that even if this goal is met, wheat farming could change dramatically in the near future, with far-reaching effects on income inequality.

Wheat yields may increase in high latitudes but decrease near the equator

According to One Earth, overall global wheat production could actually increase in the near future, but the distribution of those crops will become steadily more uneven. One Earth's research explains that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can actually benefit plants in the short term, an effect known as CO2 fertilization. NASA explains the concept further, revealing that higher levels of atmospheric CO2 trigger increased photosynthesis in plants, but warns that crops acclimate to the new conditions, so any benefits will be short-lived. Even if wheat production increases on a global scale, One Earth warns that only certain countries will benefit.

Wheat grows best in a mild climate, preferring temperatures between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and a low level of humidity, per Britannica Kids. This naturally makes it challenging to grow wheat in low latitudes near the equator. Consequentially, countries in low latitudes account for the world's leading importers of wheat, with Egypt ranking first, importing a whopping 13 million metric tons of wheat from 2021 to 2022 (via Statista). One Earth, via Science Daily, explains that any increase in global wheat production due to CO2 fertilization will likely occur in regions closer to the poles, such as the United States, Europe, and Australia. Meanwhile, countries in North Africa and South Asia, which are most dependent on imported wheat, will see prices soar to new, potentially unmanageable levels.