A global team of scientists, including one from New Zealand, has estimated that emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases from agriculture should be reduced by about 1 gigatonne (1 billion tonnes) annually by 2030 to help achieve the goals set at last year’s global climate change conference in Paris. The Paris conference confirmed a long-term goal of limiting warming from climate change to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
The authors of the study argue that focusing emissions reductions only on sectors such as energy and transport (where emissions will need to be reduced close to zero well before the end of the century) would be insufficient to meet the temperature goal set by the new climate agreement. They say that agriculture must also play its part, proposing that the global institutions concerned with agriculture and food security set a sectoral emissions target for agriculture linked to the 2°C warming limit. Yet their detailed analysis revealed a major gap between the existing mitigation options for the agriculture sector and the reductions needed: currently and readily available interventions would only deliver between 21-40% of the mitigation required.
Dr Andy Reisinger, co-author of this study and Deputy Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC), says the study serves as both a benchmark and wakeup call. “More than one hundred countries have indicated in their national climate change targets that they would like to reduce emissions from agriculture, but few have a clear plan for how to achieve this or how much they can achieve. We know that increasing the adoption of best practices for efficient and productive farm systems is a key element, but these alone are not enough. It will take much more coordinated efforts between national and global institutions concerned with agriculture and food security to make the progress that is needed.”
Dr Reisinger says that the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), a voluntary international initiative instigated by New Zealand, is making important contributions to this goal. “For many developing countries, food security, not greenhouse gas mitigation, is an overriding concern. Our work in the GRA is focussed on demonstrating that there are important synergies between increasing the productivity and efficiency of their farm systems and reducing the emissions per unit of food they produce. The more we can engage those countries in a conversation that encompasses both those elements, the better we can ensure that there is enough food to feed the planet without putting the planet itself at serious risk.”
With support from the New Zealand Government, the NZAGRC is working with the Food and Agriculture Organisation in a United Nations sponsored project to identify regionally tailored ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from key livestock systems through increasing productivity and efficiency. Current focus areas are the southern cone of South America, East and West Africa, and South Asia. An extension of this approach is planned to South-East Asia.
But even with increased efficiency gains, Dr Reisinger says, new and additional solutions to reduce emissions without compromising food security will be needed. The government-funded NZAGRC is working in partnership with the industry-government joint venture, the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium, to develop additional ways for farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. This includes the identification of naturally lower emitting animals for targeted breeding, development of animal-safe compounds that can suppress the generation of methane in the rumen of animals, and searching for ways to reduce emissions of nitrous oxide and to increase the amount of carbon stored in pastoral soils.
Dr Harry Clark, Director of the NZAGRC and Co-Chair of the Livestock Research Group of the GRA, says that this study supports the approach that New Zealand has adopted for reducing agricultural GHG emissions. Improvements in production efficiency are a crucial component of reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions but they are not enough on their own, given the increasing global population and associated demand for food. Hence the NZAGRC and the PGgRc have focussed on the development of new technologies that can make a large contribution to reducing overall emissions from agriculture. “New Zealand, in a partnership between government, science and industry is at the forefront of developing such new technologies. If successfully developed and implemented, these technologies will have global as well as local impact and would make the type of contribution the authors point out is needed for the world to achieve the target it set in Paris”.
The full paper will be available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.13340
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