Putting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions on the agenda, not just the menu

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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Credit: Paul Keeris, 2015

The conference catering trolley: it’s usually piled high with unlabelled food, can be something of a taste Russian roulette, and is often left untouched. It can be a saving grace for the rushed conference attendee or keen networker, but can also seem like a terrible waste.

There will no-doubt be catering trollies at this week’s Climate Action 2016 meetings in Washington, DC, leading one to ponder if the menu and agenda will be in harmony. The summit comes just two weeks after the Paris Agreement was signed, and eight months since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed.

Happily, the agenda for this week’s meetings does include mention of agriculture, which is often strangely absent from high-level discussions about climate change. For example, the COP21 discussions were described as “‘Les Champs-Oubliés,’ or ‘the forgotten fields’” because they largely neglected to mention agriculture as a part of the problem or solution. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from agriculture have nearly doubled in the last 50 years and currently account for one-third of all GHGs, or more than 5.3 billion tonnes per year. At the same time, agriculture and smallholder farmers are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially in developing countries.

Meat consumption is on the rise

meat production

Meat production by region. FAO STAT, 2016

Of particular concern should be the rise in global meat consumption. GHG emissions from livestock production represent at least 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. Enteric fermentation, when livestock produce methane as part of digestion then release it by belching, accounts for 39% of the agricultural sector’s GHG emissions, and rose by 11% in the decade between 2001 and 2011. Despite this damning evidence, meat consumption is on the rise. For example, the global demand for beef is projected to increase by 95% between 2006 and 2050 despite it being one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging foods. Beef production uses seven times more resources, such as water, energy, and food or inputs than pork or poultry, and 20 times more than pulses. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Africa: Science Can Help Small Farmers Feed Africa, Africa Agriculture News

Why Don’t Farmers Believe in Climate Change?, Slate

International Food Security Assessment, 2013-2023, USDA

Once Upon a Village Value Chain in Africa, Huffington Post

Africa must partner to improve agricultural production, Ghana News Agency

Agricultural productivity and greenhouse gas emissions: trade-offs or synergies between mitigation and food security?, Valin et al

Looking for Ways to Beat the Weeds, New York Times

Global Food Security Index shows promise in developing nations, AG Professional

African Countries Come Up Short on Investment in Agriculture, Voice of America

A Gap in Organic Food Chain, Wall Street Journal

Address security issues for effective climate resilience – study, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Cover crops paying off, survey shows, Agriculture.com

Let’s Make Genetically Modified Food Open-Source, Slate