Quantcast

World Farmers Need to Do More to Stop Catastrophic Climate Change

Climate

The world’s farmers and food producers must do more—perhaps five times as much—to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that threaten catastrophic global climate change, according to new research.

Right now, scientists calculate that the options available to meet the recent Paris agreement to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 C above historic levels would deliver at most 40 percent and at the lowest estimate 21 percent, of the mitigation necessary.

Traditional cattle ranchers in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Photo credit: Eduardo Amorim / Flickr

That means that cattlemen, rice farmers, shepherds, growers and livestock managers of all kinds must somehow achieve reductions in methane and oxides of nitrogen equivalent to a billion tons of carbon dioxide each year by 2030.

Carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas, but although the others are released in much lower quantities and linger in the atmosphere for a much shorter span, they are also many times more potent in terms of the greenhouse effect.

Reality Check

This new look at the challenge ahead for the world’s food producers, published in Global Change Biology journal, is the outcome of a co-operation between scientists from 22 institutes or laboratories of global distinction.

These include the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Rice Research Institute and many other agencies and universities.

“This research is a reality check,” said Lini Wollenberg, an anthropologist and natural resource management specialist at the University of Vermont, who leads the low emissions development research program of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security collaboration.

“Countries want to take action on agriculture, but the options currently on offer won’t make the dent in emissions needed to meet the global targets agreed to in Paris. We need a much bigger menu of technical and policy solutions, with major investment to bring them to scale.”

In the developing countries, agriculture is the source of about 35 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions; in the developed world, this share is about 12 percent.

At the Paris climate change conference last December, 195 countries pledged to take action and agriculture is included in the mitigation plans promised by 119 of the signatory nations. These Nationally Determined Contributions are, however, still just promises and nobody is sure how such promises are to be delivered.

Agriculture involves a complex bargain with the atmosphere. Plants soak up carbon dioxide, soils both store and release oxides of nitrogen, animals and microbes digest plants and release CO2 and methane.

So researchers have begun to look at every aspect of the greenhouse world—in the rice fields and cattle yards and in the intricate processes involved in tillage and harvest.

They have considered the impact of climate change on world harvests and the way wasteful processes contribute to climate change. They have examined the ways in which farming practices change the atmosphere and have begun to look at every process in the traffic between soil and air, literally from the ground up.

This has involved thinking about cattle digestive tracts and why rice paddy fields produce so much methane. Scientists have considered the emissions linked to the way human diet has begun to change. And they have even concluded that, in principle, it should be possible to feed the world and spare the forests and contain emissions all at the same time.

Food Production

But with a global population predicted to reach 9 billion sometime this century and against a background of difficult-to-predict climate change, farming practices must also change. Researchers need to think again about the efficient management of livestock, fertilizer use and every other aspect of food production.

“We need to help farmers play their part in reaching global climate goals while still feeding the world,” said Prof. Pete Smith, a co-author of the report and “theme leader” for environment and food security at the University of Aberdeen.

“Reducing emissions in agriculture without compromising food security is something we know how to do. A lot can already be done with existing best management practices in agriculture," Smith said.

“The tough part is how to reduce emissions by a further two to five times and support large numbers of farmers to change their practices in the next 10 to 20 years," Smith added.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

This Oregon County Said ‘No’ to Nestle and Won in a ‘Landslide Victory’

EU Delays Approval of Glyphosate, Again

Academies of Science Finds GMOs ‘Safe,’ But ‘More Research Needed’

Join Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Luis Alfonso de Alba Gongora, the UN secretary-general's special envoy for the climate summit speaks at The World Economic Forum holds the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2018 in New York on Sept. 24, 2018. Ben Hider / World Economic Forum

By Howard LaFranchi

When United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decided to hold a high-level climate summit in conjunction with this year's General Assembly kicking off next week, he was well aware of the paradox of his initiative.

Read More Show Less
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan meets with Guatemalan farmers on May 29 in Santa Rosa, Guatemala. John Moore / Getty Images

The Trump administration ignored its own evidence on how climate change is impacting migration and food security when setting new policies for cutting aid to Central America, NBC reports.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mike Pence brought the first motorcade to Mackinac Island on Saturday. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898. 13 ON YOUR SIDE / YouTube screenshot

Vice President Mike Pence sparked outrage on social media Saturday when he traveled in the first-ever motorcade to drive down the streets of Michigan's car-free Mackinac Island, HuffPost reported.

Read More Show Less
Inhaling from an electronic cigarette. 6okean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Shawn Radcliffe

  • As illnesses and deaths linked to vaping continue to rise, health officials urge people to stop using e-cigarettes.
  • Officials report 8 deaths have been linked to lung illnesses related to vaping.
  • Vitamin E acetate is one compound officials are investigating as a potential cause for the outbreak.
The number of vaping-related illnesses has grown to 530 cases in 38 states and 1 U.S. territory, federal health officials reported.
Read More Show Less
Activist Greta Thunberg leads the Youth Climate Strike on Sept. 20, 2019 in New York City. Roy Rochlin / WireImage / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

As organizers behind Friday's Global Climate Strike reported that four million children and adults attended marches and rallies all over the world — making it the biggest climate protest ever — they assured leaders who have been reticent to take bold climate action that the campaigners' work is far from over.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Summer has officially come to an end. Luckily, EcoWatch is here to keep its memory alive by sharing the winners of our "Best of Summer" photo contest.

Read More Show Less
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a news conference at UN headquarters on Sept. 18. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Today is the United Nations Climate Action Summit, a gathering called by UN Secretary General António Guterres to encourage climate action ahead of 2020, the year when countries are due to up their pledges under the Paris agreement.

Read More Show Less
A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less