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The Impact of Climate Change on Land

Robert Mendelsohn

May 2011, English

In this paper, Robert Mendelsohn discusses land use changes in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, and recreational activities. Although the precise magnitude of climate change is not known, Mendelsohn estimates that the range of global temperature rise will be between 2°C and 6°C (3.6–10.8°F) by 2100. Similar to Nicholls, Mendelsohn asserts that the change will vary across the planet. The estimated net annual damages from climate change will be between 0.1 and 1.0 percent of gross world product by 2100. In the United States, between one-third and two-thirds of total damages will be caused by water shortages, sea-level rise, tropical cyclones, extinction of species, and productivity losses in agriculture, forestry, and outdoor recreation.

Agriculture is particularly sensitive to climate change. As the relative outputs of agriculture and forestry are altered by temperature increases, land productivity across the planet will be altered. Over the next several decades, warmer weather in low-latitude regions will increase the likelihood of drought. Midlatitude regions with cool weather will benefit from warming and more precipitation. High-latitude regions will be able to increase their agricultural outputs due to higher temperatures. Yet damages to low-latitude areas may spread to the midlatitudes by the end of the century if current greenhouse gas emissions are unabated.

Forestry will be affected by possible shifts of ecosystems to higher latitudes and elevations, causing the replacement or dieback of selected timber types. Although ecosystem shifts may lead to the extinction of some plants and animals, forestland will expand in most climate scenarios for the next century, according to Mendelsohn. Rising temperatures will also speed up the hydrological cycle, leading to more evaporation and rain. Because runoff will decrease and the location of increased precipitation is unclear, most studies predict that water supplies in most low-latitude regions will fall. Outdoor recreation and tourism are expected to benefit from warmer weather. Mendelsohn believes that the best approach for dealing with climate change is to provide people with appropriate incentives, such as secure private property rights and proactive government policies to engage in local adaptation. Mismatches between standard government-mandated adaptation strategies and local conditions could make matters worse.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s Land Policy Conference of 2010 and is Chapter 4 of the book Climate Change and Land Policies. Use of this paper should include the following citation:

Mendelsohn, Robert. 2011. “The Impact of Climate Change on Land”. Climate Change and Land Policies, eds. Ingram, Gregory K. and Yu-Hung Hong. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.


Adaptation, Climate Mitigation, Environment, Environmental Management, Environmental Planning, Farm Land, Forest Land, Land Use, Open Space, Resilience, Water