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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

 

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Not for bees and pesticides!

Blog entry by Reyes Tirado | 12 April, 2012 4 comments

I like to think that this old saying is true for some things in life: a broken heart, an economic crisis or running a marathon. If you manage to survive and once the pain is gone, you will feel better and stronger than before. But this...

What's for dinner?

Blog entry by Dr. Julian Oram, Greenpeace International | 27 March, 2012

Food security is on the agenda as the global scientific community is meeting this week in London at the Planet under Pressure Conference , a runner up event to Rio +20 in June. For millions of people, that simple question is not a...

Clean water means food for all

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 22 March, 2012 4 comments

We all need water to survive, we need it to drink and we need it to produce food to eat. On 22 March 2012 the world is celebrating the World Water Day , organised by the United Nations. The focus of this year's event is water and its...

Ministry of Agriculture Action in Mexico

Image | 8 March, 2012 at 9:45

Thirty Greenpeace activists take a three metre high mobile phone to the Ministry of Agriculture (SAGARPA), in Mexico City. To send a message to the agency to not ignore the message of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food – Olivier de...

Month in Pictures, February

Slideshow | 1 March, 2012

China hammers nails into the GE coffin – what country is next?

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 27 February, 2012 2 comments

Recently China proposed to legislate against genetically engineered (GE) grains. This means that staple foods, such as rice cannot be researched, planted or sold on the Chinese market nor can it be exported. Greenpeace China has...

Brewing climate friendly tea in the garden

Blog entry by Iza Kruszewska | 14 February, 2012 28 comments

Recently, when I was attending my local community seed swop in rural Lewes in East Sussex, in England, I came across an allegedly environmentally friendly version of charcoal called biochar , which the industry mouthpieces are...

Eat it up Monsanto!

Blog entry by Caroline Jacobsson | 10 February, 2012 35 comments

There's a story doing the rounds again ,  about how Monsanto, one of the world’s largest profiteers of genetically engineered (GE) food, banned GE food from its own corporate canteens! Monsanto had its pants pulled down by Friends...

China says 'no' to genetically engineered rice

Feature story | 31 January, 2012 at 11:15

It took seven years, teams of young campaigners and hordes of devoted supporters, but September 2011 the Chinese government finally said it was suspending the commercialisation of genetically-engineered (GE) rice.

Chemical giant BASF flees Europe - no bad potatoes here please!

Blog entry by Marco Contiero & Lasse Bruun | 20 January, 2012 9 comments

The biggest chemical company in the world, BASF, is moving to the US because Europeans don’t want its genetically engineered potatoes. Just days ago, the company announced its decision to move its main laboratory for the development of...

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