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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

 

Contamination by Genetically Engineered Papaya in Thailand

Publication | 1 June, 2006 at 0:00

This report shows the history of GE papaya contamination in Thailand. It has been two years since facts were made public that a research station under the Thai Government had illegally sold and distributed genetically engineered (GE) contaminated...

Papaya - The Failure of GE Papaya in Hawaii

Publication | 25 May, 2006 at 0:00

The ringspot virus-resistant genetically engineered (GE)papaya introduced in Hawaii in 1998 has been a commercial failure that has propelled the Islands’ papaya industry towards collapse.Fewer papayas are harvested in Hawaii now than at any time...

GE insect resistant (Bt) maize in Europe:

Publication | 13 May, 2006 at 0:00

Maize has been genetically engineered (GE) in a number of ways to produce different types of GE maize, including pharm GE maize types, which produce pharmaceuticals in the plant. However, commercial GE maize consists of only two major types,...

GM Import Laws and Dumping Grounds: Country Overview

Publication | 8 March, 2006 at 0:00

Overview on the state of legal protection regarding import and labelling of genetically engineered organisms for food and feed in major countries of commodity imports and exports

GM Import Laws and Dumping Grounds: Briefing

Publication | 8 March, 2006 at 0:00

The 132 parties to the international Biosafety Protocol under the Convention on Biological Diversity, meeting in Curitiba from March 13 to 17, will try to agree on basic standards for identification and documentation of international shipments of...

GM Contamination Report: Executive Summary

Publication | 8 March, 2006 at 0:00

This report is the first from the on-line GM Contamination Register and reviews cases reported in the public and scientific literature of contamination, illegal plantings and releases of GM organisms, and negative agricultural side-effects since...

GM Contamination Report: Full Report

Publication | 8 March, 2006 at 0:00

This report is the first from the on-line GM Contamination Register and reviews cases reported in the public and scientific literature of contamination, illegal plantings and releases of GM organisms, and negative agricultural side-effects since...

Canola Report

Publication | 24 May, 2005 at 0:00

Rice at Risk - Summary table of laboratory test results

Publication | 13 April, 2005 at 0:00

Test results documenting GE rice contamination in China.

GE rice: Illegal and unwanted in China

Publication | 13 April, 2005 at 0:00

As of April 2005, no varieties of genetically engineered (GE) rice have been approved in China. However Greenpeace has discovered that GE rice seeds have been sold and grown commercially for a number of years. The GE rice is illegal, and has not...

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