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AGRICULTURE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

AGRICULTURE AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Agriculture contributes to climate change and is also equally affected by climate change. Climate change one of the many pressures on agriculture. Food is a basic human need, and a healthy diet is a key component of our health and wellbeing. A complex and increasingly globalized system of production and delivery has developed over time to meet our need for food and for different flavors. 

Agriculture contributes to climate change

Farming releases significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gases. Methane is produced by livestock during digestion due to enteric fermentation and is released via belches. Greenhouse-gas emissions, livestock, and fodder production each generate more than 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Climate change affects agriculture

Crops need good soil, water, sunlight, and heat to grow. Warmer air temperatures affect the length of the growing season. Flowering and harvest dates for cereal crops are now happening several days earlier in the season. These changes are expected to continue in many regions. Due to extreme heat and water stress in summer months, some summer crops are cultivated in winter instead. Changes in temperatures and growing seasons affect the proliferation and the spreading of some species, which might in turn affect crop yields. A part of the potential yield losses is farming practices, such as rotating crops to match water availability, adjusting sowing dates to temperature and rainfall patterns, and using crop varieties better suited to new conditions.

The global market, global demand, global warming…

Producing more food out of the land that is already used for agriculture often requires heavier use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which in turn release nitrous oxide emissions and contribute to climate change. Intensive agriculture and fertilizer use also release nitrates to the soil and to water bodies. Although not directly linked to climate change, high concentrations of nutrients in water bodies cause eutrophication. Eutrophication causes algae growth and depletes oxygen in the water, which in turn has severe impacts on aquatic life and water quality. Conversion of forest areas into agricultural land is also not a solution as this process is a source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Competing demands

It is clear that the world will need to produce more food and that key resources are limited. Agriculture has a high impact on the environment and the climate. Moreover, climate change affects — and will continue to affect — how much food can be produced and where.

The global competition for these essential resources, especially with the pending impacts of climate change, is driving developed countries to purchase large patches of agricultural land in less-developed countries. Such land purchases and climate change impacts raise questions about food security in developing countries in particular. Food security is not only a matter of producing sufficient quantities of food but also of having access to food of sufficient nutritional value.

This complex problem requires a coherent and integrated policy approach to climate change, energy, and food security. We need to increase yields while reducing our dependence on agrochemicals, to reduce food waste, and to reduce our consumption of resource-intensive and greenhouse gas-intensive foods such as meat.

 

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