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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

 

Honey Bee Collapse: A Lesson in Ecology

Blog entry by Rex Weyler | 10 June, 2013 5 comments

"In the last four years, the chemical industry has spent $11.2 million on a PR initiative to say it's not their fault, so we know whose fault it is." ― Jon Cooksey, writer, director: How to Boil a Frog . We know what is killing...

When will governments learn that GE crops are uncontrollable?

Blog entry by Janet Cotter | 31 May, 2013 1 comment

Shockwaves are being felt across the world's wheat markets following the first-ever discovery of unauthorised genetically engineered wheat growing on a US farm – a development that gives further proof that GE crops cannot be controlled...

Knowledge is key to biodiversity, not technology

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska | 14 May, 2013

Agribusiness and commodity traders are thin on the ground at this week’s FAO conference in Rome on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition. Despite its title, this event is of little interest to Big Food. After all, this conference is...

EU bans three bee-killer pesticides: a light of hope for bees and agriculture

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | 3 May, 2013 4 comments

The next time you see a bee buzzing around, it’s worthwhile remembering that much of the food we eat depends significantly on pollination these insects provide. But bees and other pollinators are declining globally, particularly in...

Bees in decline: how long will Syngenta deny science?

Blog entry by Marianne Kuenzle | 23 April, 2013 1 comment

Today, six days before the key EU vote to ban bee-killer pesticides, Greenpeace is attending the annual general meeting (AGM) of Syngenta in Basel, Switzerland, in order to alert shareholders to the company’s role in the global decline...

UglyFood: the other truth about chemical fertilisers in China

Blog entry by Alessandro Saccoccio | 16 April, 2013 2 comments

We recently blogged about a Greenpeace East Asia investigation which uncovered the ‘ugly side of food’, and exposed a phosphate fertilizers manufacturing scandal in Sichuan, China . We also sadly witnessed how chemical fertilizers...

European agriculture at risk: time to ban bee-killing pesticides

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | 9 April, 2013 6 comments

Most of the food served on our tables greatly depends on insects such as bees and their crucial pollinating role in agriculture, but the use of pesticides is increasingly placing the future of bees and our farming at risk. A ...

Bees in Decline

Publication | 9 April, 2013 at 5:30

Honeybees and wild pollinators play a crucial role in agriculture and food production. However, the current chemical-intensive agriculture model is threatening both, and thereby putting food supply at risk

Ugly food: the truth behind chemical fertilisers in China

Blog entry by Alessandro Saccoccio | 2 April, 2013 4 comments

When thinking about food the first image that comes to our mind might be the so-called 'food porn' photography that the marketing industry relies upon when advertising food products. But there is also an ugly side of food the industry...

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