Jump to content

Agriculture and Climate Change Mitigation

Banner - Kate Holt

Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, representing 20 to 25 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture also offers major opportunities to combat (i.e. mitigate) climate change in two distinct ways:

  1. reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farms via CSA technologies such as conservation tillage and precision fertiliser use, and

  2. sequestering carbon dioxide, or converting it into physical form and hence removing it from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can be sequestered into carbon sinks such as soil or wood via CSA technologies such as agroforestry and composting. Carbon sinks account for 90 percent of agriculture’s mitigation potential, which is concentrated in developing countries.

If agriculture can either be a significant contributor to climate change or a major means of combating it, how farming responds to climate change is a key question for society. Yet any initiatives to mitigate climate change via agriculture must take into account impacts on food production, given the challenge of addressing existing hunger and feeding a growing population.

Advocates of CSA emphasise the potential of CSA technologies to meet these two objectives simultaneously and of mitigation initiatives to be pro-poor, ie., beneficial to small-scale farmers in developing countries, many of whom are poor. Notably, these farmers can benefit from mitigation initiatives via both cash payments for delivering ecosystem services and the inherent benefits of appropriately targeted CSA technologies. CSA advocates often focus their efforts on finding ways to harness this potential, whether under carbon trading schemes or public sector mitigation initiatives (i.e., NAMAs).

However, critics question whether efforts to mitigate climate change via farming can really benefit poor farming communities, noting for instance that high transactions costs make it hard for such farmers to participate in carbon projects. They also highlight the potential for mitigation initiatives to benefit powerful actors such as agribusiness, government and consultants while adversely affecting communities, for example by limiting their control over land.

Image credit: Kate Holt, Africa Practice /  Flickr

Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities
P.J. Gerber; H. Steinfeld; B. Henderson / Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2013
It has been known for several years that livestock supply chains are an important contributor to climate change. Yet, despite existing and attainable potential to significantly reduce these greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, political wi...
Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
O. Edenhofer (ed); R. Pichs-Madruga (ed); Y. Sokana (ed) 2014
The Working Group III contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives an assessment of the scientific literature on climate change mitigation. It builds upon the Working ...
Towards policies for climate change mitigation: incentives and benefits for smallholder farmers
C. Streck; D. Burns; L. Guimaraes / Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research 2012
Agriculture has been previously neglected by climate negotiators and policymakers, but this is changing due to an increasing understanding of the links between climate change and agriculture. This report presents policies and interven...
Carbon intensification and poverty reduction in Kenya: lessons from the Kenya agricultural carbon project
T. Tennigkeit; K. Solymosi; M. Seebauer; B. Lager 2012
This paper focuses on the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, implemented by the NGO Vi Agroforestry, which is designing and implementing climate finance projects in the agricultural sector. It argues that this project is doing ...
National integrated mitigation planning in agriculture: a review paper
A. Wilkes / Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2013
This review of national greenhouse gas mitigation planning in the agriculture sector has two objectives: to provide national policymakers and others in the agriculture sector with an overview of national mitigation planning processes ...