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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

 

Fighting world hunger: Who deserves our praise?

Blog entry by Christine Campeau | 16 October, 2013 1 comment

Today is World Food Day, a chance to celebrate the millions of farmers around the world who put food on our tables. Yesterday, some of these farmers were awarded the Food Sovereignty Prize by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance,...

The man who showed us all the true threat in the Arctic

Blog entry by John Novis, Head of Photography, Greenpeace Int'l | 27 September, 2013 10 comments

A photo is key when it comes to bearing witness and Greenpeace has been a leading organization in visuals for over forty years. We go to the frontline of environmental issues to see for ourselves what is happening so that we can show...

AGRA: helping agribusiness conquer African agriculture?

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska and Glen Tyler | 6 September, 2013 3 comments

Finally, we have confirmation of what we have long suspected: AGRA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, has been created to facilitate the corporate takeover of African agriculture, not support African smallholder farmers...

No strawberries in winter

Blog entry by Wil van Egdom | 29 August, 2013 1 comment

As a father of three young children, I want my kids to eat good quality food, now and forever. Nevertheless, the threat of decreased food quality, and its availability in the near future, is eminent. Our current agricultural system is...

7 things you missed from Kumi Naidoo’s AMA on Reddit

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | 12 August, 2013

Ask me anything, as Reddit arranges is a risky proposition, one that I relished, but that also made me a little nervous. Smart, funny and incisive questions came in fast and furious. It was a struggle to keep up. I did my best and...

Monsanto confirms GE retreat from Europe

Blog entry by Luís Ferreirim | 22 July, 2013 8 comments

What had been brewing for weeks following various hints and tips was finally confirmed last week when Monsanto announced it would cease the marketing of new genetically engineered seeds (GE) in the European Union. The world's...

Exported: Chinese herbs laced with toxic pesticides

Blog entry by Eric Darier | 1 July, 2013 10 comments

Although widely known since 2009 as the world's largest exporter, a new Greenpeace East Asia investigation has revealed that China is also exporting traditional Chinese herbs laced with a toxic cocktail of pesticide residues. ...

Pesticides Cocktail

Slideshow | 24 June, 2013

Pesticides: the secret ingredient in Chinese herbal products?

Blog entry by Eric Darier | 24 June, 2013 16 comments

Traditional Chinese herbs have a strong reputation for their medicinal benefits, but a Greenpeace East Asia investigation has revealed that these herbs are coated in a toxic cocktail of pesticide residues, posing long-term health risks...

The fake promises of GE crops

Blog entry by Janet Cotter | 21 June, 2013 5 comments

There's been a lot of 'noise' recently about how genetically engineered (GE) crops can help "feed the world", and that they can help agriculture in a climate-affected world. But are these promises real or just hype? If we look at...

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