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Mitigating Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture

Muller, Adrian; Jawtusch, Julia and Gattinger, Andreas (2011) Mitigating Greenhouse Gases in Agriculture. Diakonisches Werk der EKD e.V. for Brot für die Welt.

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Climate change has severe adverse effects on the livelihood of millions of the world’s poorest people. Increasing temperatures, water scarcity and droughts, flooding and storms affect food security. Thus, mitigation actions are needed to pave the way for a sustainable future for all. Currently, agriculture directly contributes about 10-15 percent to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Adding emissions from deforestation and land use change for animal feed production, this rises to about 30 percent. Scenarios predict a significant rise in agricultural emissions without effective mitigation actions. Given all the efforts undertaken in other sectors, agriculture would then become the single largest emitter within some decades, and without mitigation in agriculture, ambitious goals, such as keeping global warming below two degrees may become impossible to reach. The main agricultural emission sources are nitrous oxide from soils and methane from enteric fermentation in ruminants. In addition, conversion of native vegetation and grasslands to arable agriculture releases large amounts of CO2 from the vegetation and from soil organic matter. The main mitigation potential lies in soil carbon sequestration and preserving the existing soil carbon in arable soils. Nitrous oxide emissions can be reduced by reduced nitrogen application, but much still remains unclear about the effect different fertilizer types and management practices have on these emissions. Methane emissions from ruminants can only be reduced significantly by a reduction in animal numbers. Sequestration, finally, can be enhanced by conservative management practices, crop rotation with legumes (grass-clover) leys and application of organic fertilizers. An additional issue of importance are storage losses of food in developing and food wastage in developed countries (each about 30-40 percent of end products). Thus, there are basically five broad categories of mitigation actions in agriculture and its broader context: zz reducing direct and indirect emissions from agriculture; zz increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural soils; zz changing human dietary patterns towards more climate friendly food consumption, in particular less animal products; zz reducing storage losses and food wastage; zz the option of bioenergy needs to be mentioned, but depending on the type of bioenergy several negative side-effects may occur, including effects on food security, biodiversity and net GHG emissions. Although there are many difficulties in the details of mitigation actions in agriculture, a paradigm of climate friendly agriculture based on five principles can be derived from the knowledge about agricultural emissions and carbon sequestration: zz Climate friendly agriculture has to account for tradeoffs and choose system boundaries adequately; zz it has to account for synergies and adopt a systemic approach; zz aspects besides mitigation such as adaptation and food security are of crucial importance; zz it has to account for uncertainties and knowledge gaps, and zz the context beyond the agricultural sector has to be taken into account, in particular food consumption and waste patterns. Regarding policies to implement such a climate friendly agriculture, not much is yet around. In climate policy, agriculture only plays a minor role and negotiations proceed only very slowly on this topic. In agricultural policy climate change mitigation currently plays an insignificant role. In both contexts, some changes towards combined approaches can be expected over the next decade. Its 13 is essential that climate policy adequately captures the special characteristics of the agricultural sector. Policies with outcomes that endanger other aspects of agriculture such as food security or ecology have to be avoided. Agriculture delivers much more than options for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and serving as a CO2 sink. We close this report with recommendations for the five most important goals to be realized in the context of mitigation and agriculture and proposals for concrete actions. First, soil organic carbon levels have to be preserved and, if possible, increased. Governments should include soil carbon sequestration in their mitigation and adaptation strategies and the climate funds should take a strong position on supporting such practices. Second, the implementation of closed nutrient cycles and optimal use of biomass has to be supported. Again, governments and funds should act on this. Policy instruments for nitrate regulation are a good starting point for this. As a third and most effective goal, we propose changes in food consumption and waste patterns. Without a switch to attitudes characterized by sufficiency, there is a danger that all attempts for mitigation remain futile. Finally, there are two goals for research, namely to develop improved knowledge on nitrous oxide dynamics, and on methods for assessment of multi-functional farming systems. Without this, adequate policy instruments for climate friendly agriculture and an optimal further development of it are not possible.

EPrint Type:Report
Keywords:Green house gases, climate change, Sozioökonomie, Klima, Klimawandel, Nachhaltigkeitsanalyse sustainability assessment
Subjects: Environmental aspects > Air and water emissions
Research affiliation: Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Society > Agri-food policy
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Soil
Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > Sustainability > Climate
Deposited By: Muller, Adrian
ID Code:19989
Deposited On:15 Dec 2011 15:55
Last Modified:16 Feb 2022 15:01
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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