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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

 

Will big biotech giants destroy Mexican corn? Join us and say no!

Blog entry by Aleira Lara | 11 January, 2013 45 comments

The Mexican government is likely to authorise the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) corn in Mexico. And until now Mexican citizens, with the help of organisations like Greenpeace ,  have managed to prevent agribusiness giants...

Is the world heading towards another food crisis?

Blog entry by Eric Darier | 15 November, 2012 11 comments

Too many countries have in history experienced the devastation of not only failed harvests, but also gross agricultural policy mismanagement. The Great Famine of the 1930s in the Ukraine, which resulted in millions starving to death...

Why the EU should not follow GE path to agricultural Armageddon

Blog entry by Lasse Bruun | 12 November, 2012 5 comments

When a warning comes loud and clear from someone who has lived through what can only be described as agricultural Armageddon, it’s usually a good idea to heed their advice. This week Greenpeace has linked European farmers,...

Glyphosate-tolerant crops in the EU

Publication | 30 October, 2012 at 14:51

Renowned agricultural economist Dr. Charles Benbrook was commissioned by Greenpeace International to make the first ever forecast of how Europe would be impacted by the authorisation of the cultivation of herbicide-tolerant, genetically-engineered...

Growing Doubt

Feature story | 22 October, 2012 at 10:00

A European forecast: What lessons will we learn from genetically engineered herbicide tolerant crop production in Argentina and the United States?

Food, Fuel, Forests and Climate – the Biofuels Conundrum

Blog entry by Sini Harkki | 18 October, 2012 7 comments

Fossil fuels are killing our climate and we need to find alternatives. It’s a simple message that most people get, but what happens when one of the supposed alternatives also becomes not just a climate killer, but a driver of hunger...

Fuel for thought on World Food Day

Blog entry by Julian Oram | 16 October, 2012 3 comments

On this World Food Day, I am in Rome where government ministers attending the World Committee on Food Security are facing up to a sobering reality: the food world system is badly broken. From climate change, to biofuels and GE foods,...

Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional produce?

Blog entry by Reyes Tirado | 7 September, 2012 4 comments

Safer, healthier, but what about less toxic? Why not ask the question the other way around… Are foods from chemically intensive farms worse for humans and the planet than organic alternatives? An apple is an apple, and...

Chinese children used in US-backed GE food trial

Blog entry by Monica Tan | 31 August, 2012 32 comments

How would you feel if I told you that a group of scientists had come to the United States, and fed a group of 24 children aged between six and eight years of age a potentially dangerous product that had yet to be fully characterized?

How will the world react if India says no to GE food?

Blog entry by Rajesh Krishnan | 17 August, 2012 10 comments

Genetically engineered (GE) food is a hot button topic in India. What happens here often sends ripples throughout the GE debate worldwide, but what happened last week is surely a major milestone. The Parliamentary Standing...

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