Climate and Energy

The agricultural sector is one of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change. The activities predominantly responsible for agriculture’s devastating carbon footprint are the slash-and-burn of tropical rain forests, the emission of greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide in livestock farming, and the release of carbon dioxide from soils.Agriculture contributes to climate change in several major ways including:
• Land conversion and plowing releases large amounts of stored carbon as CO2 from vegetation and soils. About 50% of the world's surface land area has been converted to land for grazing and crop cultivation resulting in a loss of more than half of the world's forests.
• Deforestation and forest degradation releases carbon through the decomposition of aboveground biomass and peat fires and decay of drained peat soils.
• Carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulate matter are emitted from fossil fuels used to power farm machinery, irrigation pumps, and for drying grain, etc., as well as fertilizer and pesticide production.
• Nitrogen fertilizer applications and manure applications as well as decomposition of agricultural wastes results in emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O).
• Methane (CH4) is released through livestock digestive processes and rice production.
• Altered radiative fluxes and evaporation from newly bare soils.
• Increased geographical distance between producer and consumer, together with regional agricultural specialization, has resulted in greater energy use for transportation (Synthesis, p. 46-47).
Agricultural activities and the subsequent processing, storage, transport and disposal of its products account for nearly 40% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Different agricultural and food systems vary enormously in terms of their impact on global warming, with respect to their direct emissions and carbon storage properties as well as their external inputs and fossil fuel consumption. The highest emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture are generally associated with the highly-intensive farming systems and industrial monocultures, rather than small-scale farming (Synthesis, p. 47). Small-scale systems producing for local markets and direct consumption have a lower impact on global warming than large-scale commodity production with high levels of processing, packaging and transport. The contribution of agriculture is crucial if the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees, through a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, is to be achieved. According to the IAASTD, a more climate-friendly form of soil management would provide the greatest potential for CO2 reduction. >>more

Greenhouse gas emissions

Agriculture contributes to climate change by emitting greenhouse gases in various ways:
When forests and swamps are converted into land for grazing or crop cultivation, carbon is released through the decomposition of above-ground biomass and the decay of drained peat soils. Carbon dioxide and particulate matter are emitted from fossil fuels used for farm machinery, irrigation pumps and grain drying, as well as for fertilizer and pesticide production.
The use and decomposition of nitrogen fertiliser, manure and agricultural waste results in emissions of nitrous oxide. Methane is released through the digestive process of livestock as well as in rice production.
Altered radiative fluxes and evaporation from newly bare soils also contribute to global warming.
Increased geographical distance between producer and consumer, together with regional agricultural specialisation, has resulted in greater energy use for transportation (Synthesis, p. 46-47).

Facts & Figures

Without more ambitious policies than those in force today, GHG emissions will increase by another 50% by 2050, primarily due to a projected 70% growth in CO2 emissions from energy use, but also due to emissions from agriculture.

Agriculture is directly responsible for the release of 5,100 - 6,100 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year and causes a disproportionate amount of nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4). Agricultural practices are responsible for approximately 47% of anthropogenic methane emissions and 58% of nitrous oxide emissions.

In the European Union, the agricultural sector produced 476 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2009, 10.3% of the total EU-27 emissions for that year (emissions from land use change, agricultural transport and energy use are excluded). Germany and France together produced 35% of the total agricultural GHG emissions in the EU-27.

In 2010, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new high since pre-industrial times. Between 2009 and 2010, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 2.3 parts per million (ppm) to 389 ppm. The global average for methane increased to 1808 parts per billion (ppb) in 2010. Around 60% of methane emissions came from anthropogenic sources, such as ruminants, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning. The burden of nitrous oxide in 2010 was 323.2 ppb - 20% higher than in the pre-industrial era, mainly as a result of the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizers, including manure.

The total global contribution of agriculture, considering all direct and indirect emissions, is between 17 and 32% of all global human-induced GHG emissions, including land use changes. From 1990 to 2005, global agricultural methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions increased by 17% and are projected to increase by another 35 - 60% by 2030. This is being driven by growing nitrogen fertiliser use and increased livestock production.

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted. In Europe and North America, per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).


  • IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Chapter 8 Agriculture
  • FAO - Climate Change News & Publications on Climate Change
  • UNEP United Nations Environment Programme - Climate Change
  • IFPRI-Climate Change research institute working on climate change and food security
  • REDD UN initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation
  • EEA European Environment Agency - Climate Change

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Unterstützer von biovision Verlag der Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft e.V. Demeter Greenpeace Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung Eine Welt Stiftung Die Grünen, Europäische Freie Allianz Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst NABU - Naturschutzbund Deutschland e.V. Misereor Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft in der GLS Treuhand
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