Climate Mitigation from Agriculture is Limited.

By Dave Armstrong - 17 May 2016 9:40:0 GMT
Climate Mitigation from Agriculture is Limited.

How will farmers adapt to the most modern technologies designed to prevent gross greenhouse gas emissions? Even if they do, the outlook is bleak unless innovation rates improve.

Rice harvest image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Farmers are having the bulk of the expectations for carbon emissions reduction placed on their shoulders. Agricultural improvements have been limited, it seems generally to 4 areas:

rice crop wetting and drying to improve water use;

sustainable intensification of cattle (a strange-sounding concept);

managing nutrient applications on annual crops with manure and nitrogen;

and relocating production to improve input efficiency.

At least another 60 % of the necessary mitigation worldwide would need to be found with new policies and investment, new practices and vast extensions of standard good practice. The only hope lies in methane inhibitors for dairy cows, cattle breeding for the same reason and genetic change for cereal crop too (to release less nitrous oxide- it seems they have been causing the same problems as diesel cars!)

The science for such innovation may be to some unknown extent still lacking, but surely the major elephant in the rice field is persuading farmers in developing areas to adopt these technical changes. The words new investment should perhaps read throw money at farmers. Otherwise we could easily be left with global warming way above the 1.5oC rise so ambitiously mentioned in Paris. With massive amounts of other greenhouse gases from land use change and fossil fuels, we would seem to be lucky even to achieve a 2oC rise. Efforts so far include using animal labour, such as in the Cuban reduction of the use of Russian tractors and their huge increase in urban farming in Havana.

The agricultural rumblings emanate from the journal Global Change Biology. The multiple authors work in many of the UN and other international organisations (CSIRO, FAO, CCAFS, CIAT, ICRAF, IIASA, etc.) who control how research progresses, so they certainly work at the coal face of mitigation practices. Lini Wollenberg is one of the authors, working at the University of Vermont, US, and at the research programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security(CCAF.) She believes in a series of solutions that will require large amounts of investment among the 119 countries who currently want to mitigate their agricultural emissions.

The problem is that no work is being done to fulfil these Parisian pledges! Science has some of the answers, but how will the technology or the ideology be transferred to poor farmers in nations with little investment available? The World Bank and several other money suppliers have recently become accustomed to producing the necessary funding, so it could well be financiers who save the world. What a turnaround that would be.

With 35% of all the carbon emissions in developing countries coming from agriculture, their specific needs for basic food security must be balanced with mitigation practices. For the next few decades, because that is a minimum time-scale, CO 2 and methane have to be cut by between x2 and x5 of our present capability, in agriculture alone!

We knew this set of realisations was coming but the cold figures really concentrate the mind.