Sustainable agriculture’s climate mitigation potential
A new report, “Cool Farming: Climate Impacts of Agriculture and Mitigation Potential”, written for Greenpeace by Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen, a lead author on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, examines the direct and indirect impacts of agriculture on climate change.
Agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture has degraded soils and destroyed resources that are critical to storing carbon, such as forests and other vegetation. The highest direct emissions from agriculture are due to the overuse of fertilisers.
Fortunately, the most important finding of the report is that agriculture has the potential to change from being one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters to a net carbon sink, while offering options for mitigation of climate change.
The solutions call for a shift to sustainable farming practices that build up carbon in the soil and use less fertiliser. The report details a variety of farming practices which can reduce agriculture’s contribution to climate change that are easy to implement. These include improved cropland management (such as avoiding bare fallow, and appropriate fertiliser use), grazing-land management, and restoration of organic soils as carbon sinks. A reduction of meat consumption, especially in developed countries, could also greatly reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emission.
The full report can be downloaded at http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/cool-farming-full-report.pdf
A summary version of the report is available at http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/cool-farming.pdf
'Cool Farming: Climate impacts of agriculture and mitigation potential', written for Greenpeace by Professor Pete Smith from University of Aberdeen, a lead author on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, is the first report to detail both the direct and indirect effects farming has on climate change.
"As a key contributor to climate change, the environmental impact of industrial farming has reached critical levels," said Jan van Aken, Greenpeace International Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner. "Governments must support a farming future that works with nature, not against it."
The report describes how energy- and chemical-intensive farming has led to increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily as a result of the overuse of fertilisers, land clearance, soil degradation, and intensive animal farming. The total global contribution of agriculture to climate change, including deforestation for farmland and other land use changes, is estimated to be equivalent to between 8.5 -16.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or between 17- 32% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Fertiliser overuse is responsible for the highest single share of agriculture's direct greenhouse gas emissions, currently equal to some 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Excess fertiliser results in the emission of nitrous oxide (N2O), which is some 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in changing the climate.
"The saturation bombing of farmland with fertilisers can and must be stopped. Farmers need to be encouraged to use less fertiliser with more precision, and given assistance to convert to modern, ecological farming systems," stressed Jan van Aken. "Governments must stop subsidising environmentally destructive practices in agriculture."
Cool Farming details a variety of practical solutions which can reduce climate change and that are easy to implement, including reducing overuse of fertilisers, protecting the soil, improving rice production and cutting demand for meat, especially in developed countries.
Notes to Editor
Professor Pete Smith was a coordinating lead author of 'Mitigation of Climate Change', Chapter 8 (Agriculture), by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III, online at http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg3.htm
Professor Pete Smith is available for interview on request
Jan van Aken, Greenpeace International Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner
Tel: +49 163 431 88 00
Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Media Relations Specialist Tel: +44 (0) 7717 802 891