By: James Oliver & Erik Mencos Contreras

The combination of a warming Earth and an increasing population is expected to strain the world’s food systems in the coming decades. Food security, defined as the availability and adequate access at all times to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life, now and going forward, is at risk in many places in the world. To respond to these challenges, the Aspen Global Change Institute (AGCI) convened the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) Workshop on Coordinated Global and Regional Integrated Assessments (CGRA) of Climate Change and Food Security on September 13-18, 2015.

Simulations will be rooted in local expertise, historical observations, and climate projections from CMIP5 and CMIP6, and will be driven by scenarios linking the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs).

“Farmers and others in the agricultural and food sectors are faced with the quadruple task of contributing to global reductions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, coping with an already-changing climate, delivering healthy and nutritious food, and sustainably managing soil and water resources,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig, AgMIP Co-Principal Investigator. “Agriculture is being called upon to ensure both human and planetary health.”

The CGRA workshop was one of the first efforts to focus on the melding together of differing disciplines and scales to develop a more consistent and complete assessment of food security. Analyzing dangers in food security is a complex and difficult undertaking because of the wide range of topics, scales, and scopes involved. For example, the biophysics behind climate, crops, and livestock has to be taken into account, as well as the economic impacts of changes in food and labor availability. On top of this, scientists can assess food security on a scale as small as a single household or as large as the globe itself. This week in Aspen was dedicated to understanding how to relate and incorporate these differences to develop protocols for consistent integrated assessments of food security across time periods and from regional to global scales.

“Of all the future changes associated with the climate, none will be felt as widely across the globe as the impacts on future agriculture and food security.” stated Jeffrey Taylor, the managing director of AGCI, during the opening remarks made on Monday morning the 14th. Organizations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognize the importance of this challenge and will incorporate information concerning climate change’s impacts on agriculture in its newest assessment report. One of the overall goals of this week-long workshop was to draft protocols and implementation plans for the CGRA to help contribute to the IPCC’s upcoming 6th Assessment Report.

A concern with previous assessment reports on agriculture and food security is that methodologies, scales, models, and other aspects have been inconsistent. The aim of this workshop was to link together experts from varying fields and scales, and develop consistent protocols as well as improve assessments of food security. On different occasions throughout the week, interdisciplinary groups convened and collaborated on the best methods to associate their fields and scales together.

“Integrating the regional modeling efforts, which have a better understanding of the regional perspective, with the global modeling efforts and vice versa will increase the benefits for all stakeholders,” stated Naresh Kumar (Indian Agricultural Research Institute).

Across the board, the workshop was filled with numerous constructive and thought-provoking presentations, speeches, and group discussions. “The workshop laid the groundwork for taking climate impact assessment to a new level that will produce more credible and relevant information for global and regional stakeholders. First, we identified the key steps that link global and regional assessments, including scenario design and data exchange protocols; second, with input from stakeholders we redefined the overreaching goals in relation to risk and vulnerability assessments; and third, we put in place a team to incorporate improved food security and nutritional indicators into the assessments,” explained John Antle, Co-PI of AgMIP.

AgMIP researchers have identified four major assessment questions concerning food security: 

  • What are the capabilities of and limits to adaption? 
  • What are the effects of agricultural mitigation policies? 
  • How will climate change affect food security and nutrition? 
  • How will food policies affect future agricultural production and food security?

Throughout the workshop these four questions guided discussions in relation to discipline and scale. During this week however, a fifth major assessment question was also added. “How can we manage risk of extreme weather and climate events that affect current and future agricultural production and food security?” This is an essential addition, as it ties in not only long-term climate change, but also interaction with extremes and transition of climate states. When asked across differing scales and disciplines, these questions were implemented to weed out inconsistencies of past assessments of food security.

“With the goal of forwarding knowledge and action regarding a healthy and sustainable food system in a changing climate, the dialog in this AGCI-hosted AgMIP workshop made important advances across scales and disciplines,” stated John Katzenberger, Director of AGCI.

CGRA framework for simulation sets designed to provide policy guidance on adaptation, mitigation, food security, and food policy.

The workshop brought together 45 experts from agriculture and related disciplines to prepare and develop the blueprint for CGRA. By interacting with stakeholders throughout the week, three separate foci of the workshop became apparent: a focus on risk management; on resolving models, discipline, and data linkages on current and future time periods; and on outcomes of nutrition. As modeling improves, more effective risk management strategies can be developed. Focusing on both the “now” and “later” allows decisions based upon real-time information and future decision-making to plan for food challenges. Nutrition, an extremely important piece to the food security puzzle, bridges the gap between agriculture and human well-being.

“I found the discussion focused on inclusion of livestock and nutrition, as a part of AgMIP’s future plan, very exciting,” said Ghassem Asrar (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), Co-Chair of the AgMIP Steering Council. “This, together with a focus on the risk of extreme events to agricultural and food systems, at global and regional scales, clearly identifies some of the new directions for AgMIP research, modeling, and analyses in the ensuing decade. The scientific understanding and new information resulting from these efforts will benefit a broader community of stakeholders in the future, thus enhancing the scientific impact of AgMIP on society.”

Draft protocols for the CGRA will be developed and posted on the American Geophysical Union (AGU) website ( for public comment by the agricultural modeling community. Plans for the CGRA will be shared at upcoming conferences, such as iCropM in Berlin in March, 2016. The next full convening for the CGRA will take place at the 6th AgMIP Global Workshop to be held in Montpellier, France, in June, 2016.

“For me, this was a transformational workshop. After an event like this, nothing is quite the same, as new ideas and approaches take hold,” expressed Adam Drewnowski (University of Washington), “First, the focus on extreme weather, arising from climate change, brought home the importance of modeling the impact of likely catastrophic events on the food supply. Second, modeling nutrient density of crops in addition to calories aligned AgMIP with the principles of “nutrition sensitive” agriculture espoused by international agencies. And let us not forget the importance of feeding populations of megacities of twenty million or more. Agricultural modeling of food security can easily extend to modeling the next steps in the food system: processing and retail.”

This workshop was made possible thanks to generous contributions from UKAid, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the University of Chicago, the Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate and Energy Policy, the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Aspen Global Change Institute.