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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

 

Making the case for ecological farming in Africa

Blog entry by Glen Tyler | 12 June, 2014 1 comment

When I ask people what the backbone of most African economies is, the response is often a unanimous, "agriculture". It goes without dispute that agriculture is the most important and largest contributor to the gross domestic product...

The food system we choose affects biodiversity: do we want monocultures?

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | 23 May, 2014 1 comment

Article originally published in the Guardian. On today's United Nations biodiversity day, we are being asked to focus on small islands and their unique ecology and fragility in times of globally pervasive threats such as climate...

The buzzing of bees must not fall silent

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | 20 May, 2014 1 comment

A third of our food, including some of our most delicious produce such as apples, tomatoes and coffee, along with most of the flowering plants on earth, depend on honeybees, wild bees and other insects for pollination. The...

Breastfeeding and indigenous food: a mother’s recipe for healthy children

Blog entry by Velvet Escario Roxas | 11 May, 2014 1 comment

Today is Mother's Day and as a Filipino mother of two girls and Deputy Executive Director of Arugaan, a Filipino NGO which protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding, it is a great opportunity to share our recipe to ensure our...

Plan Bee: we can live without pesticides!

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | 7 May, 2014 3 comments

Today Greenpeace launched a solutions report, Plan Bee - living without pesticides. It illustrates concrete ways to protect our bees and agriculture and proves the large-scale feasibility of ecological farming. Only ecological...

Plan Bee – Living Without Pesticides

Publication | 7 May, 2014 at 11:00

The drastic decline of wild and managed bee populations recorded in recent years in Europe and North America is alarming given our reliance on these insect pollinators for biodiversity and global food security.

The Alliance to Save the Bees tackles Syngenta and Bayer at their AGMs

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | 30 April, 2014 1 comment

Yesterday, alongside the Europe–wide Alliance to Save the Bees and Agriculture we took a stand against the agrochemical industry. At the annual general meetings (AGMs) of Syngenta and Bayer we made ourselves heard on behalf of the bees...

Your home garden at the bees' peril

Blog entry by Matthias Wüthrich | 25 April, 2014

With spring comes home-gardening and lovingly tending to the outdoor flowers and plants you bought at the home hardware or ‘do-it-yourself’ store. Unfortunately, bees may not love your garden as much as you do.  After an analysis of...

A Toxic Eden

Publication | 24 April, 2014 at 12:13

This study reports results from the laboratory analysis of ornamental plants sourced from garden centres, supermarkets and DIY-stores in ten European countries.

Atom Solar Suntrolley is here!

Blog entry by Ruhie Kumar | 17 April, 2014

What happens when a design for a solar water pump is actually implemented? The innovation challenge ran from September to November, 2013, with three winners from across the world - Canada, Hungary and India. Recently, one of the...

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