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article imageAgricultural emissions must be reduced to meet climate agreement

By Karen Graham     May 18, 2016 in Environment
An eye-opening new research paper indicates that the global agricultural sector is going to have to do more to reduce non-CO2 emissions by one gigaton per year by 2030 in order to meet the new climate agreement's plan to limit warming by 2°C in 2100.
Scientists from the University of Vermont, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and other partner institutions have calculated for the first time the extent that the agricultural sector's emissions must be reduced if the world is to meet the Paris climate agreement, reports Science News Online.
The one gigaton requirement in reducing non-CO2 emissions will be necessary, but a wide gap has been found in the existing mitigation options for the agriculture sector and the reductions needed, with the data showing that current mitigation efforts would only deliver 21-40 percent of the mitigation required.
Harvest time in China.
Harvest time in China.
Steve Evans / Bangalore, India
The authors also warn that the emission reductions set for other sectors, such as energy and transportation, are actually insufficient to meet the climate agreement. They suggest the agricultural sector must also play a role. They propose that global institutions concerned with agriculture and food security get together and set a sector target linked to the 2°C limit.
A reality check
“This research is a reality check,” comments Lini Wollenberg, leader of the CCAFS Low Emissions Development research program, based at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. “Countries want to take action on agriculture, but the options currently on offer won’t make the dent in emissions needed to meet the global targets agreed to in Paris. We need a much bigger menu of technical and policy solutions, with a major investment to bring them to scale.”
It is interesting that the 119 nations signing the climate deal included agriculture in the mix of mitigations, however, no studies have been done to determine how this was to be carried out. Not including land use change, agriculture contributes 35 percent of emissions in developing countries and 12 percent of emissions in industrialized countries.
Tyres  plastic and toxic waste are left strewn on the sides of an agriculture field near Orta di Ate...
Tyres, plastic and toxic waste are left strewn on the sides of an agriculture field near Orta di Atella, southern Italy, on November 14, 2013
Mario Laporta, AFP/File
Professor Pete Smith, Theme Leader for Environment & Food Security at the University of Aberdeen and co-author of the paper, comments that the rest of the world needs to help farmers to meet their goals in reducing emissions. He adds that we already know how to reduce agricultural emissions, and a lot is being done with good management.
How do we reduce emissions in the agricultural sector?
Professor Smith adds, "The tough part is how to reduce emissions by a further two to five times and support large numbers of farmers to change their practices in the next 10 to 20 years.”
According to the research team, to achieve the one gigaton per year mitigation target for non-CO2 emissions set out in the paper, the 21 to 40 percent reduction in emissions could be achieved by enhancing these known practices:
1. Sustainable intensification of cattle
2. Efficient use of water through alternate wetting and drying in irrigated rice
3. Nutrient management for annual crops, including efficient use of nitrogen and manure
4. Relocating production to increase input efficiency
However, implementation would require massive investment, information sharing, and technical support to enable a global-scale transition. The target will not be reached unless higher impact technologies are incorporated into the agricultural sector, as well as a rewrite and upgrading of policies.
Technologies and new policies
Some of the new technologies include recently developed methane inhibitors that reduce methane gas by 30 percent in dairy cows without affecting milk output, new breeds of cattle that produce less methane gas, and the development of cereal crops that release less nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
A dairy cow produces 53 pounds of milk every day  and 120 pounds of manure.
A dairy cow produces 53 pounds of milk every day, and 120 pounds of manure.
At the same time, policies are needed that promote more rigorous carbon pricing, taxes, and subsidies, as well as the adoption of sustainability standards that include reduced emissions in agriculture by governments. More relevant technical assistance on emission reduction methods needs to be provided to farmers by way of cell phones or the Internet.
Of course, the paper also mentions sequestering soil carbon, increasing agroforestry, decreasing food loss and waste and shifting dietary patterns, saying all these could contribute to reducing emissions. But they point out there has been very little study of these sources and how they might contribute more to the mitigation of emissions. All in all, the paper is very interesting in what it points out are the major issues in reducing emissions worldwide.
This paper, "Reducing emissions from agriculture to meet the 2°C target," was published in the journal Global Climate Change on May 17, 2016.
More about paris agreement, Greenhouse gasses, agricultural sector, energy and transportation, Food security
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