Reducing agriculture emissions through improved farming practices

A marginal abatement cost curve offers a perspective on how 25 proven GHG-efficient farming technologies and practices could reduce emissions by about 20 percent by 2050.

The agriculture sector’s role in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is widely known but not well understood. In truth, more than one-quarter of the world’s GHG emissions come from agriculture, forestry, and land-use change. And unless actively addressed, these emissions are likely to increase as more people populate the Earth and the need for food continues to grow. Our latest report, Agriculture and climate change, looks more deeply at these issues.

Global Warming of 1.5°C, the 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), makes clear that a “rapid and far-reaching” transition is required to limit the impact of climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius.1 Doing so would require staying within the cumulative carbon budget of 570 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide (GtCO2e),2 reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions globally around 2050, and significantly reducing the emissions of other gasses—including methane and nitrous oxide. Any successful scenario would mean major changes for agriculture, from how we farm, to how we eat and waste food, to how we manage our forests and natural carbon sinks.

Achieving these major changes may be more challenging for agriculture than for other sectors. Although the pace of emissions reduction remains too slow across the board, other sectors have identified many of the technologies that could substantially reduce emissions: these options don’t necessarily exist in agriculture. Agriculture is also significantly less consolidated than other sectors; reducing emissions requires action by one-quarter of the global population. Finally, the agriculture sector has a complicated set of objectives to consider alongside climate goals, including biodiversity, nutrition need, food security, and the livelihood of farmers and farming communities.

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