Global agricultural emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide, will need to be cut down to prevent the warming of the planet by more than 2C over the next century.
Methane is produced by the cattle as part of their digestion process and is emitted mostly through belching, while nitrous oxide is produced by the addition of natural or synthetic fertilisers to the soils.
The report by researchers from the universities of Vermont and Sheffield and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change focuses on non-CO2 emissions, such as methane and nitrous oxide.
Even though the current focus is on reducing emissions from transport and energy, scientists argue that if farm-related emissions aren’t slashed, then the targets of the Paris climate summit will be breached. At the summit, 119 nations had pledged to reduce agricultural emissions without indicating how they would do it.
The researchers have calculated that greenhouse emissions, one third of which come from agriculture, must be reduced by one gigatonne per year in 2030.
Agricultural Emissions Are A ‘Reality check’
Co-author Lini Wollenberg from the University of Vermont said,
“This research is a reality check. 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.”
However, the report also stressed that the cutting agricultural emissions levels needs to be balanced with the need to produce food.
“We need to help farmers play their part in reaching global climate goals while still feeding the world,” says Prof Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen and co-author of the paper.
“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.”
“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.”
Improving The Current Systems
Managing the current agricultural methods, such as the efficient use of water to irrigate crops, improvement in the use of fertilisers such as nitrogen and manure and the management of livestock in a more efficient and sustainable way will help in slashing the agricultural emissions.
However scientists argue that merely improving current systems would,
“require massive investment, information sharing and technical support to enable a global-scale transition.”
Commenting on the report, Professor Duncan Cameron, chair of plant and soil biology at Sheffield University, said,
“Reducing emissions by gigatonne, which is roughly equivalent to the weight of all of the major skyscrapers in the world combined, sounds like a tall order, but if we act now and take onboard the combination of approaches suggested in this study, it is potentially achievable while maintaining the security of the world’s food supply.”
Scientists stressed the need to put into use methane inhibitors that reduce dairy cow emissions by 30% without affecting milk yields, breeds of cattle that produce lower methane, and varieties of cereal crops that release less nitrous oxide.