01.11.2017 |

Agriculture can help close "alarmingly high" emissions gap, UN says

Soil carbon sequestration can help to close the emission gap (Photo: NRCS,,

There is an urgent need for action if the goals of the Paris climate agreement are to be met. A new UN report says that current state pledges cover no more than a third of the emission reductions required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, creating a dangerous gap. The agricultural sector could help close this gap with measures such as soil carbon sequestration and the reduction of food loss and waste. According to the 2017 edition of UN Environment’s “Emissions Gap Report”, released on October 31, as things stand, even the full implementation of current unconditional and conditional pledges countries have made would not be enough to keep global warming well below 2°C. Temperature increases of at least 3°C by 2100 are very likely. the UN has warned. Emissions in 2030 would still be 11 to 13.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level required to meet the 2°C goal. In order to attain this target, emissions of all greenhouse gases should not exceed 42 GtCO2e in 2030. The gap in the case of the 1.5°C target is 16 to 19 GtCO2e. Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker, the authors warns. “One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

However, the report also presents practical ways to slash emissions through action in the agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry and transport sectors. Significant potential for emission reduction exists in the agricultural and forestry sectors, the report highlights. “Carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere can be an important strategy: “Land-based carbon removal options, including forests, wetlands and soils have been managed by humans for many years and as such, there is a wealth of knowledge that can be readily applied today with confidence,” the report says. “In addition, these approaches present opportunities to meet other global sustainability goals, such as improved water quality, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity preservation and improved crop yields.” The report argues that soil carbon sequestration uses agricultural and land management practices that are generally well known by farmers and land managers, and for the most part, does not require additional machinery or infrastructure. It therefore represents a readily available option to be implemented.

The report also gives options on the consumer side to reduce the emission gap. Efforts can be made to lower the carbon footprint of peoples’ diets. The impact of shifting food patterns to a diet recommended by the World Health Organization, which aims at reducing the consumption of animal products and fat, could decrease total greenhouse gas emissions by 0.37 to 1.37 GtCO2e per year in 2030, the report estimates. Another option is reducing food waste and loss. “Within the agricultural supply chain, significant losses can be identified when factors such as harvesting inefficiency, bad harvesting conditions, deterioration during storage, and consumer behaviour are considered,” the authors write. Estimates of total losses vary considerably between 30 to 50%. A 45 to 75% reduction in the amount of wasted food has the potential of saving up to 2 GtCO2e per year. The report estimates the basic emission reduction potential of agriculture at 3 GtCO2e per year in 2030. If measures which the report describes as uncertain are added such as biochar, peat-related emission reductions, and dietary changes, the agricultural sector could save a further 3.7 GtCO2e in 2030. This means that the combined measures in the agricultural sector alone could close almost half of the emission gap that needs to be filled in order to meet the 2°C goal. (ab)

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Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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