The world is on the verge of becoming a much greener place.
But a new report suggests that even as we shift away from agricultural production, the amount of greenhouse gases we emit is still rising.
The Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GGE) report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IIID) shows that carbon dioxide emissions from agricultural activities, and the production and consumption of food and other products, are increasing by 3.3 per cent per year, according to the IISS.
This year, emissions of CO2 have risen by 4.5 per cent, the report shows.
This is the second consecutive year that agriculture is the biggest driver of climate change, as climate change leads to a decline in the amount and type of vegetation.
The report points to the need for improved management of forests and other landfills as well as climate-smart practices to limit global warming.
“If we’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we have to start by focusing on a more sustainable way of growing food,” said IISS director of climate and agro-ecology research, Daniel Kriegman.
“It’s a combination of managing land and water, planting trees and shrubs, improving water quality, reducing the use of fertilisers and pesticides and other chemical inputs, and building more resilient systems.”
In the report, Krieger points to a key factor in agricultural emissions: fertiliser use.
According to the report , fertiliser is used in more than 95 per cent of the world’s agricultural activities.
“Fertiliser is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” said Krieging.
“In fact, fertiliser alone accounts for about 20 per cent to 40 per cent in greenhouse gas intensity.”
According to IIID, the main reasons for fertiliser usage are: water pollution and loss of soil nutrients, and crop residue, and to protect seeds from insect and disease, among other things.
The report also points to waste from landfilling, waste from the processing of food, and waste from packaging.
“The waste is a huge source of GHG emissions and needs to be addressed as well,” said Pauline Kosslyn, a professor at the University of Western Australia’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems.
The IISS says that the most important agricultural practices in developing countries include using biodynamic farming techniques, reducing livestock consumption, and adopting sustainable food production practices.
These include the use, harvesting and processing of grasses, plants and trees to feed livestock, and a reduction in waste from animal feed.
In India, for example, there are nearly 3 million animals and 1.8 million tonnes of feed for the entire country’s population, but it takes an estimated two billion litres of water to produce one kilogram of food.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that one kilo of beef has a net-negative GHG contribution, or less than one-third of the greenhouse gas footprint of a pound of beef.
However, the impact of deforestation and other practices on CO2 emissions is not fully understood.
“We’re seeing a lot of different ways that agricultural production can be managed, and it can affect greenhouse gas mitigation, which is why we need to be able to use all the available data,” said Robert Schulz, a senior scientist at IISS and co-author of the report.
“For example, the carbon footprint of deforestation in India could be reduced if the land was more productive.”
In India the biggest single agricultural sector for greenhouse gas emission is the agriculture sector, with the biggest contribution coming from the farming of grasslands and shrublands.
However the impact on CO 2 emissions in India comes largely from land use, the IIID report notes.
The study found that in India, land use was responsible for only about 15 per cent and 5 per cent respectively of the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted, while the other 30 per cent comes from land clearing and other agricultural practices.
Land clearing can result in the burning of forests, wetlands and other ecosystems.
“While there are many ways of cutting down forests, the biggest impact is through the burning and burning of land, which accounts for more than 60 per cent,” said Schulz.
In addition, the IISD found that land clearing has the greatest impact on land use efficiency.
“Land is the single largest source of CO 2 , and it’s only by changing the way we manage it that we can reduce CO 2 from land,” said Joseph Ewert, director of the IIII and coauthor of both reports.
The researchers say that the key to avoiding the carbon emissions that come from agriculture is to develop a holistic approach to land management.
“Agricultural land management is a critical part of reducing greenhouse gas and CO 2 emission, as it is responsible for almost one third of the CO 2 emitted globally,” said Ewer.
“But we have much to learn about how to do that effectively and efficiently.”
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