Agriculture's climate change role demands urgent action

Feature story - January 7, 2008
Agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions and urgent changes need to be made if its role is to be changed from a carbon source to a carbon sink, according to a new report published by Greenpeace today.

Greenpeace illustrates the effects of industrial agriculture on climate change.

Cool Farming: Climate impacts of agriculture andmitigation potential, is the first report to detail both thedirect and indirect effects farming has on climate change.Cool Farming is written for Greenpeace byProfessor Pete Smith from University of Aberdeen, a lead author on thelatest International Panel on Climate Changereport.

"The impact of industrial farming on climatechange has reached a critical threshold," said Josh Brandon, GreenpeaceAgriculture Campaigner. "We can only go on so long sucking the life outthe soil and releasing waste into the air, oceans and rivers before wepermanently degrade the capacity of these ecosystems to sustainus."

The report describes how energy- andchemical-intensive farming has led to increased levels of greenhousegas emissions, primarily as a result of the overuse of fertilisers,land clearance, soil degradation, and intensive animal farming. Thetotal global contribution of agriculture to climate change, includingdeforestation for farmland and other land use changes, is estimated tobe equivalent to between 8.5 -16.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide orbetween 17- 32% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Fertilizer overuse is responsible for the highestsingle share of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions, currently equalto some 2.1 billion tonnes of CO2 annually. Excess fertilizer resultsin the emission of nitrous oxide (N2O), which issome 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in changing the climate.

The report details a variety of practical solutionswhich 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 indeveloped countries.

"Every year, agriculture isresponsible ten per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions" saidJosh Brandon.  "If Prime Minister Stephen Harper is sincere incombating climate change, an essential first step is a tax onfertilizers.  This must be followed by tougher regulations onpesticides and a lot more money to promote local and organicagriculture in Canada."