Future of the human climate niche

Chi Xu*, Timothy A. Kohler, Timothy M. Lenton, Jens Christian Svenning, Marten Scheffer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

363 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

All species have an environmental niche, and despite technological advances, humans are unlikely to be an exception. Here, we demonstrate that for millennia, human populations have resided in the same narrow part of the climatic envelope available on the globe, characterized by a major mode around ~11 °C to 15 °C mean annual temperature (MAT). Supporting the fundamental nature of this temperature niche, current production of crops and livestock is largely limited to the same conditions, and the same optimum has been found for agricultural and nonagricultural economic output of countries through analyses of year-to-year variation. We show that in a business-as-usual climate change scenario, the geographical position of this temperature niche is projected to shift more over the coming 50 y than it has moved since 6000 BP. Populations will not simply track the shifting climate, as adaptation in situ may address some of the challenges, and many other factors affect decisions to migrate. Nevertheless, in the absence of migration, one third of the global population is projected to experience a MAT >29 °C currently found in only 0.8% of the Earth's land surface, mostly concentrated in the Sahara. As the potentially most affected regions are among the poorest in the world, where adaptive capacity is low, enhancing human development in those areas should be a priority alongside climate mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11350
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume117
Issue number21
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2020

Keywords

  • Climate
  • Migration
  • Societies

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