Climate-smart agriculture

“A lot of the emissions associated with food are actually transport based – so the aim of using local and not wasting food will have more of an effect than just changing your diet.”

The global food system, which encompasses production, processing and distribution is also a key contributor to emissions. And it’s a problem for which we don’t yet have viable technological solutions.

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There are many issues around the production of food:

How is food produced and where? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Farmers tackling climate change – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Climate change and beef – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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One issue is how many greenhouse gas emissions farming produces – in particular animal agriculture which is demonised by most climate change activists. It is necessary to be careful which sources of information are used because some can be misleading, at times the costs of animal based agriculture are scrutinised carefully but the costs of plant based agriculture are glossed over.

There are several graphics which point to the amount of emissions from the whole farming industry:

Global Emissions | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

With a slightly different picture here, but again with all the emissions put together:

Greenhouse gas emission statistics – emission inventories | ec.europa.eu

Another set of data clearly states that plant cultivation counts for some of the agriculture emissions:

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data | Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions | US EPA

When agriculture is cited as the second largest producer of emissions the statement only works if you lump major sectors together, for example all agriculture v all energy production + construction + transport.

In 2016 the statistics showed that energy production, buildings, and cars combined produce the most emissions (73%) of any sector. The figures were Heat and Electricity ~30%, Transport ~15%, Manufacturing and Construction ~12%, Total Agriculture Cultivation ~12%, Land Change Use (such as deforestation) ~6.5%, Industrial Processing of Chemicals ~5.6% :

4 Charts Explain Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Countries and Sectors | World Resources Institute     May 2020

In other words, the production of meat by itself does not disproportionately increase greenhouse gas emissions: and Agriculture emissions were the same as Construction emissions. Reusing old buildings would cut emissions far more easily than reducing animal food products would; and eggs, milk and cheese are important dietary components in many countries.

As suggested by a correspondent:

“A lot of the emissions associated with food are actually transport based – so the aim of using local and not wasting food will have more of an effect than just changing your diet.”

Food transportation issues and reducing carbon footprint | cleanmetrics.com

As is made clear in a recent Food and Agriculture Organisation report, the “total emissions from global livestock representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions” is somewhat reduced because “the consumption of fossil fuel along supply chains accounts for about 20 percent of the livestock sector’s emissions.”

And this transportation figure would be pretty much the same across the agriculture sector, whether animal or otherwise:

FAO – News Article: Key facts and findings     Includes information on mitigation of animal agriculture emissions, on which much work is being done.

Finally, we don’t have an easy technological fix for agriculture – whether arable or livestock:

When it comes to tackling climate change, the focus tends to be on ‘clean energy’ solutions – the deployment of renewable or nuclear energy; improvements in energy efficiency; or transition to low-carbon transport. Indeed, energy, whether in the form of electricity, heat, transport or industrial processes, account for the majority – 76% – of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.1

But the global food system, which encompasses production, and post-farm processes such as processing, and distribution is also a key contributor to emissions. And it’s a problem for which we don’t yet have viable technological solutions.

Food production is responsible for one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – Our World in Data

Nevertheless, there are several clever initiatives out there to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which are being implemented from California to Ecuador – and which we can learn from in the UK:

Genetic diversity of livestock can help feed a hotter world. This and other key finding are explored in FAO’s second global assessment on The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. CSA aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.

Climate-Smart Agriculture | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Frontiers | The Policy Enabling Environment for Climate Smart Agriculture: A Case Study of California | Sustainable Food Systems

For example;

The Second Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources | FAO | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

   
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