Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

5 Questions About Agricultural Emissions Answered

Climate
uacescomm / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

By Aleksandra Arcipowska, Emily Mangan, You Lyu and Richard Waite

Agriculture provides a livelihood for billions of people every day and feeds all of us. Yet food production has significant impacts on the environment through deforestation and water pollution. It's also a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.


As countries work to cut their emissions overall, agricultural emissions need to fall, too. To better understand agriculture's relationship with global emissions, we took a closer look at the data, using Climate Watch to answer five important questions.

1. What causes agricultural emissions?

The majority of agricultural production emissions come from raising livestock. More than 70 billion animals are raised annually for human consumption. The biggest single source is methane from cow burps and manure. Enteric fermentation—a natural digestive process that occurs in ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats—accounts for about 40% of agricultural production emissions in the past 20 years.

Manure left on pasture also causes agricultural emissions. It emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a much stronger global warming impact per ton than carbon dioxide. These two processes from animal agriculture produce more than half of total agricultural production emissions. Rice cultivation and synthetic fertilizers are also major sources, each contributing more than 10% of agricultural production emissions.

While we focus on agricultural production emissions in this blog post, it's important to remember that agriculture is also a leading driver of land-use change (for example through the conversion of forests to croplands or pasture). Recent WRI research estimated that agriculture and land-use change collectively accounted for nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.

2. What’s agriculture’s role in global and national emissions?

Emissions from agricultural production currently account for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and have risen 14% since 2000.

In 24 countries around the world, agriculture is the top source of emissions.

3. Which countries are responsible for the most agricultural production emissions?

In the 20-year period from 1996-2016, China was responsible for the most emissions from agricultural production, followed by India, Brazil and the United States. Together, these top four agricultural emitters were responsible for 37% of global agricultural production emissions.

Since 2000, China and India's agricultural production emissions have increased by 16% and 14%, respectively (see: figure 3). In terms of per capita agricultural emissions, the top three countries are Australia, Argentina and Brazil.

4. What will agricultural emissions look like in the future?                 

Agriculture will likely continue to be a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions in both developed and developing countries.

With little to no climate action in the agriculture sector, greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production could increase 58% by 2050. WRI research also showed that when factoring in land-use change, agricultural emissions under a business-as-usual scenario could eat up 70% or more of the world's "carbon budget," the amount of emissions the world can release by 2050 while still limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C. Under a more ambitious mitigation scenario called RCP2.6, emissions from the agricultural sector will still increase, but only by 6% (compared to 2000).

WRI also analyzed an even more ambitious "breakthrough technologies" scenario—with changes in technology, policies and practices from farm to plate—that would reduce agricultural production emissions by 40% between 2010 and 2050 and increase carbon removal from the atmosphere with vast amounts of reforestation. Such measures would require enormous amounts of investment and effort, but they are necessary for keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C, the limit scientists say is necessary for preventing some of the worst impacts of climate change.

5. What are countries doing to reduce agricultural emissions? 

Emissions from agricultural production can be addressed by improving production and consumption patterns. WRI's recent research points to a five-course "menu of solutions" to feed 10 billion people by 2050 while reducing agricultural emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

On the production side, boosting yields of crops and livestock through sustainable intensification can reduce emissions per unit of food produced and greatly relieve pressure on the world's remaining forests. A suite of technological innovations, including feed additives that reduce enteric fermentation, "nitrification inhibitors" that reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer, and lower-emissions rice varieties could all reduce emissions while maintaining yields.

Consumption can be more efficient by reducing food loss and waste and by shifting diets in wealthier countries away from emissions-intensive products like beef and toward plant-based foods.

This movement has already begun, but it needs to accelerate. Climate Watch allows users to explore all countries' climate commitments, or NDCs, and see which include action in agriculture. Out of 197 Parties to the Paris Agreement, 75 have committed to mitigation actions and 116 have committed to adaptation actions within the agricultural sector. Top emitting countries like China and India have submitted sector-specific adaptation plans that cover areas including food security, irrigation, land and soil management, and agroforestry. Other countries aim to reduce short-lived climate pollutants like methane through their NDCs. Japan, for example, has proposed measures to reduce methane emissions from agricultural soils and rice paddies.

With new agriculture data on Climate Watch, users can explore for themselves the drivers of agricultural emissions and see what countries have committed to do under the Paris Agreement. Visit the tool here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A sand tiger shark swims over the USS Tarpon in Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Tane Casserley / NOAA

By John R. Platt

Here at The Revelator, we love a good shark story.

The problem is, there aren't all that many good shark stories. According to recent research, sharks and their relatives represent one of the world's most imperiled groups of species. Of the more than 1,250 known species of sharks, skates, rays and chimeras — collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes — at least a quarter are threatened with extinction.

Read More Show Less
The Anderson Community Group. Left to right, Caroline Laur, Anita Foust, the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, and Bill Compton, came together to fight for environmental justice in their community. Anderson Community Group

By Isabella Garcia

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.

Read More Show Less
Berber woman cooks traditional flatbread using an earthen oven in her mud-walled village home located near the historic village of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, Africa on Jan. 4, 2016. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. /NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt

The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.

Read More Show Less
Danny Choo / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Olivia Sullivan

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Read More Show Less
A mostly empty 110 freeway toward downtown Los Angeles, California on April 28, 2020. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.

Read More Show Less
Centrosaurus apertus was a plant-eating, single-horned dinosaur that lived 76 to 77 million years ago. Sergey Krasovskiy / Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

Scientists have discovered and diagnosed the first instance of malignant cancer in a dinosaur, and they did so by using modern medical techniques. They published their results earlier this week in The Lancet Oncology.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. NPS

By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts

The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.

Read More Show Less