This page has been archived, and may no longer be up to date

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

 

How our breakfast choice can change the food system

Blog entry by Reyes Tirado | 18 May, 2015 2 comments

8:00 am, Monday, southern Spain: "What's for breakfast, Mom?" Everyday, at least three times a day, we are faced with the same question: What to eat? For almost 1 billion people in the world this is a painful question, with an...

Food and Farming Vision

Publication | 18 May, 2015 at 9:00

We are living with a broken food system. It needs to be replaced urgently for the benefit of all people, and the planet. Greenpeace's Food and Farming Vision describes what Ecological Farming means, and how it can be summarised in seven...

Those who produce our food suffer the most

Blog entry by Kirsten Thompson | 12 May, 2015 2 comments

How pesticides affect farmers' and our health. At Greenpeace we have been campaigning against the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture for a long time. Not only because they are not necessary for food production, in fact...

Pesticides and our Health

Publication | 12 May, 2015 at 9:00

Since 1950 the human population has doubled, yet the area of arable land used to feed these people has increased by only 10%. There are huge pressures to provide food, at low cost, on land that is becoming more and more degraded as nutrients are...

When industrial food fails us, it's time to change the food system

Blog entry by Alessandro Saccoccio | 11 May, 2015 5 comments

The current food system is broken. We all see how industrial and chemical intensive food production impacts on people and farmers, the planet and animals. For example, did you know that in 2007, 269 tonnes of pesticides were used...

Celebrating ecologically farmed food in Nairobi

Blog entry by Taahir Chagan | 22 April, 2015

On 25 April we will celebrate ecologically farmed food in all its splendour by hosting a fun food fair in the heart of Nairobi at Central Park. We will have an authentic  Kenyan Cook-off contest , where the budding chefs will be...

The grass is always greener on the other side (as long your neighbor doesn’t use Roundup)

Blog entry by Patrizia Cuonzo | 22 April, 2015 5 comments

Today is Earth Day, and approximately one month since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed-killer, probably causes cancer . In the Netherlands, where I live,...

Glyphosate's under the spotlight

Blog entry by Patrizia Cuonzo | 30 March, 2015

Pesticide Action Week 2015 had just started when I had read some interesting news: "Roundup weedkiller 'probably'* causes cancer, says WHO study" The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – an agency affiliated...

The strong arm of the Grrrowd

Blog entry by Kumi Naidoo | 26 March, 2015 10 comments

Grrrowd is a powerful new model for crowdfunding legal cases involving human and environmental rights. It's the Kickstarter of class action suits, the Indiegogo of good cases for good causes. It's the place where a poor Mexican...

Shanghai 1 - Beijing 0. The latest score in a food safety match

Blog entry by Jing Wang | 23 January, 2015 1 comment

As a proud Beijing citizen, I was appalled to learn that neighbourhood markets in the city are selling vegetables which are not only contaminated with chemical pesticides well in excess of Chinese standards, but are even worse affected...

1 - 10 of 248 results.

Categories