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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

 

Climate change, spiraling food prices and what the world must do next

Blog entry by Julian Oram | 12 July, 2012 16 comments

Finally, people are coming out in droves and talking openly about the links between climate change, extreme weather events… and food prices. In the US, one of the largest producers of wheat, soy and corn, the Department of...

Rising Powers Take the Floor at Rio+20

Blog entry by Yong Rong, Greenpeace East Asia | 17 June, 2012 3 comments

Last week, I kissed my five-year-old daughter goodbye in Beijing and got on a flight bound for Rio de Janeiro. 25 hours later, I joined some 50,000 other people in Rio for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Absent from that big crowd,...

Illegal GE canola found growing in Swiss port area

Blog entry by Akiko Frid | 31 May, 2012 2 comments

Genetically Engineered (GE) oilseed rape, or GE canola, was recently found growing in Switzerland where nobody actually cultivates it. Switzerland has in fact had a GE moratorium in place since 2005 and the import of GE crops in...

Precaution is simply common sense

Blog entry by Paul Johnston and David Santillo | 24 May, 2012 1 comment

Using precaution to avoid environmental problems makes sense right? Well, that is what is called the Precautionary Approach. Opponents argue that precaution is a recipe for inaction, that it stands in the way of innovation and that it...

Facing up to the costs of stamping out GE corn

Blog entry by Federica Ferrario | 22 May, 2012 3 comments

Imagine you stumble upon an oil spill that needs immediate attention to prevent substantial environmental damage, but even when you contact the authorities nothing happens. You feel completely lost when you realise no one cares. What...

Mayan people join action to keep honey GE free

Blog entry by Aleira Lara | 16 May, 2012 4 comments

Recently members of the  Mayan people  living on the Yucatan Peninsula in  Mexico joined Greenpeace activists  and said no to genetically engineered crops. Using their own bodies to form the message ‘MA OGM’ or ‘No to GE’, 2000...

India and the Philippines at forefront of campaign to protect eggplant diversity

Blog entry by Didit Pelegrina | 7 May, 2012 1 comment

Recently, Greenpeace in the Philippines dressed up as genetically engineered (GE) monster crops and filed a case before the Supreme Court asking to stop the on-going field trials of the GE insect resistant Bt eggplant, on the...

Sustainable intensification in Africa feeds greedy agribusiness, not people

Blog entry by Dr Julian Oram | 4 May, 2012 1 comment

There is an old ironic saying that goes ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’. There is a broader social truth to it: that people, if well fed and nourished, tend to be more content with life. But for big agribusiness ,...

GMO Monster Crops Protest in Philippines

Image | 19 April, 2012 at 10:12

Greenpeace activists dressed as GMO "monster crops" accompanied by "mad scientists" protest outside the Department of Agriculture in Manila. Greenpeace, together with other concerned organizations are demanding that the Philippine government...

Problems with the relatives

Blog entry by Janet Cotter | 17 April, 2012

Gene escape from GE insect resistant eggplants could create aggressive weeds in South and South-East Asia We know that growing genetically engineered (GE) crops risks harm to the environment and our health, but exactly what are the...

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