Impacts of climate change on global food trade networks


Higher temperatures will significantly modify the production of crops. This impact constitutes a threat not only to individual producing countries but, because of an acceleration in countries’ dependence on overseas trade for food supply, also to global food security. The long-term (2070–2099) potential impacts of climate change on global food trade networks of three key crops: wheat, rice and maize are examined in this journal article by Henrik Carlsen, Co-Director of Mistra Geopolitics and Senior Research Fellow at SEI, et al.

Corn field in agricultural garden and sunset.
Corn field in agricultural garden and sunset. Photo: Lamyai / Shutterstock.

The authors investigate how trade patterns between countries may be disrupted and reoriented under potential long-term (2070–2099) climate change impacts on food production. Using trade data for three key staple crops (wheat, rice and maize), they propose a baseline model for analyzing potential structural redistributions of global food trade networks as a consequence of climate-induced production changes.

By combining trade and climate impact data, their analysis proceeds in three steps. First, the authors use network community detection to analyze how the concentration of global production in present-day trade communities may become disrupted with climate change impacts. Second, the authors study how countries may change their network position following climate change impacts. Third, they study the total climate-induced change in production plus import within trade communities.

Key messages

  • Generally, the structure of the trade communities shows relatively strong patterns of geographical proximity: for all three crops, North and South America form two trade communities.
  • Western and central Europe form a trade community, also for all three crops (note however small production of rice).
  • For Africa there are relatively strong patterns of food trade between neighbouring countries.
  • For Asia, the picture is slightly more scattered. For example, for rice there is a strong trade community in South Asia with important trade links to many Sub-Saharan African states, but weak links to North and South America.


Results indicate that the stability of food trade network structures compared to today differs between crops, and that countries’ maize trade is least stable under climate change impacts. Results also project that threats to global food security may depend on production change in a few major global producers, and whether trade communities can balance production and import loss in some vulnerable countries. Overall, our model contributes a baseline analysis of cross-border climate impacts on food trade networks.


Johanna Hedlund et al 2022 Environ. Res. Lett. 17 124040DOI 10.1088/1748-9326/aca68b


Authors of this publication

Henrik Carlsen ,