Trends, Sources, and Solutions for Agriculture’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By Paul C West, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Farming and climate are tightly connected. Climate change is projected to decrease crop yields in many regions of the world and boost them in others. But agriculture has another important connection to our climate. It accounts for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the transportation sector, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, trains, boats, airplanes, and any other engine-powered contraption that gets up from one place to another. Agriculture needs to play a critical role in efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The main sources of greenhouse gas emissions are deforestation, methane emissions from rice paddies, nitrous oxide from fertilizer and manure management, and draining peatlands. Within the Latin America and Caribbean region, clearing forests to expand agriculture is the largest source of emissions. About a third of all tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 took place in Brazil.
Fortunately, the rate of forest loss is decreasing while agricultural production is increasing. Improved management practices and seed varieties have increased yields of soy and other crops. This is very positive news for both the agricultural sector as well as conservation of natural habitat. As production intensifies, careful management of fertilizer and manure management will limit additional nitrous oxide emissions. These techniques and policies can be applied to other countries in the region as well.
For more information on greenhouse gas emissions and several other aspects of improving both global food security and the environment, check out an expanded version of this on Food Matters. This project was developed by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in collaboration with other partners.