SUMMARY Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is an important cash crop in many countries, including Saudi Arabia. Understanding the likely potential distribution of this crop under current and future climate scenarios will enable environmental managers to prepare appropriate strategies to manage the changes. In the current study, the simulation model CLIMEX was used to develop a niche model to estimate the impacts of climate change on the current and future potential distribution of date palm. Two global climate models (GCMs), CSIRO-Mk3·0 and MIROC-H under the A2 emission scenario for 2050 and 2100, were used to assess the impacts of climate change. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to identify which model parameters had the most effect on date palm distribution. Further refinements of the potential distributions were performed through the integration of six non-climatic parameters in a geographic information system. Areas containing suitable soil taxonomy, soil texture, soil salinity, land use, landform and slopes of <7° for date palm were selected as suitable refining variables in order to achieve more realistic models. The results from both GCMs exhibited a significant reduction in climatic suitability for date palm cultivation in Saudi Arabia by 2100. Climate sensitivity analysis indicates that the lower optimal soil moisture, cold stress temperature threshold and wet stress threshold parameters had the most effect on sensitivity, while other parameters were moderately sensitive or insensitive to change. The study also demonstrated that the inclusion of non-climatic parameters with CLIMEX outputs increased the explanatory power of the models. Such models can provide early warning scenarios for how environmental managers should respond to changes in the distribution of the date palm in Saudi Arabia.