An aerial view shows hotspots of forest fires in the Riau region. Palm oil companies are clearing forest and peatlands with fires in preparation for oil palm plantations.
Farming is responsible for an estimated 8.5-16.5 billion tonnes
of carbon dioxide, or 17-32 percent of all human-induced greenhouse
The overuse of fertilisers, dependence on pesticides, land
clearing, soil degradation, and intensive animal farming lie at the
heart of the problem.
Using too much fertiliser accounts for the highest single share
of agriculture's direct emissions, currently equal to some 2.1
billion tonnes of CO2 per year, and results in the emission of
nitrous oxide, which is some 300 times more potent than carbon
dioxide in changing the climate.
The second biggest direct emitter is animals. Cattle and sheep
in particular, produce large amounts of the potent greenhouse gas
methane when digesting; levels are increasing as a result of the
growing demand for meat. Each kilogramme of beef produced results
in 13 kilos of carbon emission; for lamb each kilo produces 17
kilos of emissions.
It is not only these direct effects that contribute to climate
change. Cutting down forests and other natural cover to make way
for agricultural land for grazing, growing animal feed and other
crops, removes vital carbon sinks so increasing global warming.
Over the past 20 years, more than 300 million hectares of tropical
forests, an area nearly as big as India, has been destroyed largely
for intensive animal farming, or palm oil for biofuel
What can be done?
Governments need to reject the current model of energy- and
chemically-intensive farming that characterises industrial
agriculture and replace it with farming that works both with nature
and the needs of local communities.
By reducing the use of fertilisers, protecting soil and
biodiversity, improving rice production and cutting demand for
meat, especially in developed countries, the devastating effects of
agriculture on the climate can be reversed.
Farmers need to be encouraged to use less fertiliser with more
precision, and given support to convert to modern, ecological
farming methods. Measures must be adopted which enrich soil, such
as using cover crops when fields are not in use, to stop it from
being leached of all nutrients. Traditional practices and local
seed varieties need to be championed in favour of such costly and
environmentally damaging options as genetically engineered
Reduction of methane produced by rice, one of the world's staple
foods, is vital. It can be achieved by using less water and
fertiliser without sacrificing yield. And slash demand for
All this is possible without putting feeding the world at risk.
Governments and international institutions have the means to stop
agriculture from killing the climate now.
summary of the report and the
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