How farming can be detrimental in averting dangerous climate change

Recent studies have revealed that slight changes made to the way farm lands are ploughed could actually have a significant impact on the emission of greenhouse gases on a worldwide scale, thereby playing a potential role in averting drastic climate changes across the planet.


In its annual emissions report, the UN has made it clear that agriculture can make a profound difference to the annual excess of nearly 12 gigatones of greenhouse gases by 2020. This difference is measured between the pledges individual countries make to reduce warming gases and the actual targets needed to keep the global temperature below 2C. The resulting data was compiled by nearly 44 scientific groups from nearly 17 countries

At the UN meeting held in Cancun in 2010, the authors of the report claimed that countries would need to work unitedly towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions to just 44 gigatones of CO2 equivalent by 2020 in order to keep the temperature below the 2C target.

However, after reviewing all the pledges and plans by individual countries, the report states that when combined, the differences show an increase of nearly 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent in the next seven years. To put it in simpler terms, it would mean an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 80% in the coming years.

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One of the ways the report feels this gap can be bridged is by making simple changes on agricultural fronts to cut down emissions by about 4 gigatonnes. Currently, the CO2 emitted from ploughing fields and the nitrous oxide emitted from fertilizers contribute to nearly 10% of the worldwide total.

According to the report, simple concepts like conservation tillage can help reduce the emission of these gases to a great extent. This includes changing the way the fields are ploughed, the fertilizers are applied to the fields and leaving back crop residues of the previous year on the fields in order to protect the soils.

The UN report also cited various examples to prove the fact, starting from Argentina which has avoided the emission of nearly 100 million tonnes of toxic greenhouse gas emissions by shifting to conservation tillage as early as 1990. In addition to effectively curbing global warming, many believe that this move would also positively affect poor farmers. By this, the report aims to propagate what is called ‘sustainable agriculture’ on a global scale, a factor it believes, would help control emissions to a great extent by 2020.

In addition to focusing on agriculture and its contribution to greenhouse gas reduction, the report compiled by the UN also cited several other measures that could be adopted to bridge the gap, including the reform of fossil fuel subsidies, emphasis on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Even encouraging farmers to finding more fuel efficient second hand farm equipment is a step in the right direction.

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