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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

 

Genetically engineered papaya - unknown plant

Publication | 3 July, 2003 at 0:00

Genetic engineering is a crude and old fashioned technology. The mechanism by which genetically engineered (GE) papaya is resistant to Papaya Ringspot virus (PRSV) is not known. The environmental risks of GE papaya are difficult to define because...

Precaution Before Profits - GE field trials put our environment, food and fields at risk

Publication | 2 July, 2003 at 0:00

Field trials of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Thailand threaten irreversible environmental harm, increasing the risk of GE contamination in our food and in our fields.

Patented papaya - Extending control over food & fields

Publication | 2 July, 2003 at 0:00

The European Union’s new labelling rules for food and feed - Implications for the...

Publication | 2 July, 2003 at 0:00

The European Union's new Regulation on genetically engineered (GE) food and feed together with the regulation on traceability were finally adopted on July 2nd 2003 by the European Parliament. These regulations will substantially change the rules...

Precaution Before Profits - GE field trials put our environment, food and fields at...

Publication | 19 June, 2003 at 0:00

2003 Update version - Field trials of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Thailand threaten irreversible environmental harm, increasing the risk of GE contamination in our food and in our fields.

Monsanto & Genetic Engineering - Risks for Investors

Publication | 16 April, 2003 at 0:00

GE company Monsanto received the lowest environmental rating from Innovest Strategic Value Advisors. This implies the firm has above risk exposure and less sophisticated management than peers. The report illustrates that Monsanto faces business...

Executive summary: Monsanto & Genetic Engineering - Risks for Investors

Publication | 16 April, 2003 at 0:00

Executive Summary of Innovest report on Monsanto's GE strategy

Monsanto out of our food

Publication | 23 January, 2003 at 0:00

A Greenpeace International Briefing prepared for the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, January 2003. Monsanto is the leading company responsible for contaminating the environment with genetically engineered crops. Its products accounted...

Impact of Proposed GE Seed Contamination Directive on Arable Land of EU Accession...

Publication | 14 October, 2002 at 0:00

Close to 6.9 million hectares of arable land in the 13 EU accession countries (inc Turkey) are currently planted with maize or oilseed rape. Since one variety of genetically engineered (GE)oilseed rape and two varieties of GE maize already have...

Food Aid: US Attempts to force GMO aid on Africa

Publication | 3 September, 2002 at 0:00

The famine conditions developing in southern Africa, and requests of African governments forGM-free food aid, have highlighted the fact that much of the maize and soy currently found in USfood aid stocks is actually genetically modified.Presently...

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