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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

 

From "good to great": ecological farming is coming!

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska | 21 January, 2015

2014 has been a good year for ecological farming. Also called agroecology, this knowledge-rich type of farming which protects and sustains the diversity of life on earth is gaining recognition as farmers struggle to adapt to a changing...

Food movement on the march

Blog entry by Eric Darier | 19 January, 2015 4 comments

I joined the march against agribusiness in Berlin on Saturday, 17 January. It is too easy to be blasé about yet another demonstration. However, the large turnout of tens of thousands of people of all ages during a winter day was good...

Are limits to growth real?

Blog entry by Rex Weyler | 17 January, 2015 3 comments

In 2002, global warming denialist and anti-environmental gadfly Bjørn Lomborg consigned the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, to "the dustbin of history." However, 42 years of data now appear to vindicate the book’s premise, that the...

Tropical deforestation is bad news – the science keeps telling us

Blog entry by Dr Janet Cotter | 9 January, 2015 10 comments

Deforestation is very bad news for the environment and for the climate. It is bad news for biodiversity and releases greenhouses gases into the atmosphere – we know that. But the science is increasingly certain that deforestation is...

Grrrowd: How much justice can we crowdsource?

Blog entry by Brian Fitzgerald | 24 December, 2014

Take a crowd, add a Grrrowl, and what have you got? A Grrrowd. Think of it as a Kickstarter or Indiegogo for justice. Citizens band together to fund not just good causes, but good cases: legal action that can bring down polluting...

One step at a time we are getting closer to a GE-free Europe

Blog entry by Luís Ferreirim | 22 December, 2014

When the year comes to a close it's often a time for balances, and even if progress is slow it's good to stop for a moment to take stock. Take genetically engineered (GE) crops (also referred to as GMOs), for example. In Europe,...

Seeds Distribution for Typhoon Affected Farmers in The Philippine

Image | 19 December, 2014 at 14:30

Greenpeace volunteers prepare to distribute rice seeds for planting, to farmers whose fields where totally destroyed by Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit). A group of farmers from the islands of Cebu, Bohol and Negros – strong movers of sustainable and...

Filipino farmers share 'seeds of hope'

Blog entry by Wilhelmina Pelegrina | 19 December, 2014 1 comment

Ecological farmers in the Philippines have pooled their expertise and resources and travelled close to 600 km (370 miles) to help farmers in Dolores, Eastern Samar, get back on their feet following Typhoon Hagupit. Communities were...

2014: A Year In Pictures

Slideshow | 19 December, 2014

Fighting a government-assisted land grab with #peoplepower in Hungary

Feature story | 4 December, 2014 at 20:00

Many progressive farmers have for years been producing food ecologically around the world. They are the growing evidence that ecological farming is a real and better alternative to the industrial and chemical intensive farming system which is...

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