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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

 

Herbicide tolerance and GM crops

Publication | June 30, 2011 at 6:00

The widespread and increasingly intensive use of glyphosate in association with the use of GM (genetically modified) crops poses further risks to the environment and human health.

Risky potato plan mashed by activists

Feature story | May 19, 2011 at 16:45

It’s potato planting time again in the north of Sweden where activists are occupying BASF’s potato warehouse and are blocking the exit in order to hinder the German chemical company from planting the risky GMO potato “Amflora.”

Europe takes step towards ban on genetically modified crops

Blog entry by Stefanie Hundsdorfer | April 13, 2011 9 comments

What does an EU Commissioner do if he wants Europe to start growing GM crops , but governments aren’t cooperating? The answer – offer governments the right to ban GM crops in turn for a blessing on GM crops at the EU level. The trick...

Ecological agriculture = Romantic vision?

Blog entry by Dirk Zimmermann, Greenpeace Germany | March 10, 2011 7 comments

A seedling grows in an organic field, on the outskirts of Bangalore, Karnataka. Image: Vivek M Agriculture is facing numerous important problems: food supply, social justice, ecology, climate change. We are told by the...

Genetically Engineered Maize: The Reality Behind the Myths

Publication | March 1, 2011 at 14:06

Currently the world’s big agrochemical firms that produce GE seeds – notably Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta - are investing millions of dollars every year to promote so-called benefits of the use of their GE technology. But the truth is that many...

A celebration of soils

Blog entry by Gopi Krishna | February 4, 2011 4 comments

Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers over several decades has been sucking life out of Indian soils, and thereby putting the country’s food security at stake. But the government has continued to mindlessly promote chemical...

Your name: signed, designed and delivered!

Blog entry by LisaV | December 9, 2010 16 comments

This morning, in the middle of Brussels at the EU Commission, over one million signatures calling for a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops were delivered by Avaaz and Greenpeace to the Commissioner of Health and Consumer...

Over a million EU citizens finally have their say on GM crops

Blog entry by Myrto Pispini | December 9, 2010 24 comments

The first ever European Citizens’ Initiative is handed over to John Dali - EU Commissioner of Health and Consumer Policy. Over a million signatures surround the 380-square-metre piece of 3D pavement art. Can you imagine how it feels...

American judges, European citizens – and the Vatican: It's NO to GE!

Blog entry by Daniel Kramb | December 7, 2010 12 comments

Organic carrots. The future of agriculture is about ecological farming aligned with nature, not GE crops. © Greenpeace / Emma Stoner On genetic engineering (GE), the good news just keeps coming in: German and US courts are...

German legal victory a slap in the face to the genetic engineering industry

Blog entry by Stephanie Töwe-Rimkeit | November 25, 2010 5 comments

The genetic engineering (GE)  free movement in Germany and all farmers, producers and consumers who don’t want GE on the fields and in the food have a big reason to celebrate!. The Federal Constitutional Court in Germany reaffirmed...

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