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Agriculture and Climate Change: Background

The Overview

A farmer gathers the remains of a dying corn plantation in Chiang Saen district along the bank of the Mekong River.

Some agricultural methods contribute to climate change, whereas other agricultural approaches help mitigate climate change and protect the environment.

Polluting-agriculture contributes to climate change. Polluting-agriculture practices include using synthetic-chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, and planting monocultures— large areas of a single plant.

Ecological farming, in contrast, helps mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. Ecological farming employs natural fertilizers; organic pest control; and biodiverse farming—mixing different plants and crop varieties in a given field .

The Challenges

Polluting-agriculture is a key source of carbon emissions. Specifically, this unhealthy form of agriculture creates roughly 14% of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. And in fact, polluting-agriculture is responsible for up to 32% of these greenhouse-gas emissions when we include deforestation caused by agricultural expansion.

Climate change also impacts agriculture. Rainfall, temperatures and farmers’ access to water are three main factors that can disrupt agriculture and ecosystems. It is almost certain that crop yields will decrease in warmer climates, where food is most scarce. Other consequences of climate change include increased outbreaks of insect infestation, as well as infestations spreading to new geographic areas (for example, the emergence of the European corn borer and the American bollworm in Europe).

Sources of Pollution

What, exactly, are the sources of the human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture? Apart from deforestation and other land-use changes, it is mainly synthetic fertilizers and livestock that emit nitrous oxide and methane, potent greenhouse gases.

Approximately half of agricultural emissions come from livestock and meat production. The average amount of fossil-fuel energy needed to produce calories in meat is roughly ten times higher than the energy needed to produce calories in plants.

The Trends

From 1990 to 2005, the world’s agricultural emissions increased by 17%. Scientists now project that, by 2080, emissions will again increase—this time by 35 to 60%. This would represent at least a doubling of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace illustrates the climate effects of industrial farming by writing "N2O" in flames on a field.

How Ecological Farming Practices Can Help

Ecological farming adapts agriculture to climate change by bringing diversity back to farms and fields—and by protecting natural biodiversity. Ecological farming practices can mitigate up to 70% of all of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically:

  • Eliminating the overuse of fertilizers is one helpful practice. Improving cropland soil management is another.
  • Reducing synthetic fertilizer use and improving soil management help make the shift from polluting-agriculture to healthy, carbon-rich soil—the basis for a non-chemical, biodiverse and healthy agriculture.
  • Another way to reduce emissions is by improving water management in rice cultivation. The benefit is that drier organic matter does not produce as much methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Yet another of the many ways to decrease agricultural emissions is to stop the practice of burning crop residues—what remain of plants after the harvest. Instead, this material can be conserved—and returned to the soil.

Greenpeace believes that the future of agriculture is ecological farming. This ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow. Ecological farming practices protect soil, water and climate. They promote biodiversity. And they protect the environment from contamination by chemicals and genetic engineering.

The latest updates

 

Media briefing – GMO debate

Publication | 24 November, 2008 at 9:52

A media briefing on the GMO debate linked to the Ad hoc working group on the 24th of November and the Environment Council on the 4th of December 2008.This briefing covers why the debate is important, the likely outcomes of the meetings and...

IAASTD Briefing

Publication | 14 April, 2008 at 0:00

Millions of people are facing food shortages, unaffordable food prices and in many cases, hunger. Global grainreserves are declining, and grain prices are skyrocketing. There are many underlying factors for the current crisis,from bad harvests...

Living banner by Swiss activists against GE crops

Image | 16 March, 2008 at 16:59

Swiss activists "sow-the-future" in a protest against GE crops. They created a living banner that read "GE Free".

GM Contamination Register Report 2007

Publication | 28 February, 2008 at 8:55

This is the third annual report from the online GM Contamination Register, which reviews reported cases of contamination and illegal plantings and releases of GM (genetically modified) organisms.

MON 863: A chronicle of systematic deception

Publication | 13 March, 2007 at 0:00

An account of how Monsanto was granted licences for MON863 (a genetically-engineered maize variant) and of the campaign to unearth and evaluate data that demonstrates how MON863 is unfit for consumption.

GM contamination Register Report - Executive Summary

Publication | 19 February, 2007 at 9:18

Annual review of cases of contamination, illegal planting andnegative side effects of genetically modified organisms.

Bayer defends genetic contamination as "Act of God"

Feature story | 6 February, 2007 at 13:07

You might blame the dog for eating your homework, or a traffic jam for being late to work. But if you ever find yourself facing a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit for contaminating the world's number one food crop with an unapproved...

GE Rice Bad for Business: Company Statements

Publication | 30 November, 2006 at 11:50

Sodruzhestvo GE free company statement

Publication | 23 November, 2006 at 9:49

Sodruzhestvo, the biggest soya importer in Russia, which supplies 70% of all soya used in the Russian food and feed industry, has stated that it will turn its new factory currently under construction in Kaliningrad into a GE free zone.

Future of Rice

Publication | 15 November, 2006 at 0:00

Examining sustainable, long term solutions for rice production.

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