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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Global Ppotentials for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Agriculture

item Dumanski, Julian - RETIRED SOIL SCIENTIST
item Desjardins, R - AGRICULTURE & AGRI-FOOD
item DE Freitas, Pedro - EMBRAPA SOILS
item Landers, John - APDC, BRAZIL
item Gerber, Pierre - FAO
item Steinfeld, Henning - FAO
item Verchot, Louis - CIFOR
item Schuman, Gerald - RETIRED ARS SOIL SCI
item Derner, Justin

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: June 9, 2009
Publication Date: July 2, 2010
Citation: Dumanski, J., Desjardins, R.L., Lal, R., De Freitas, P.L., Landers, J.N., Gerber, P., Steinfeld, H., Verchot, L., Schuman, G.E., Derner, J.D. 2010. Global Ppotentials for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation in Agriculture. In: Stigter, K. (ed.), Applied Agrometeorology. Springer, Heidelberg, Germany. pp 1101. Book Chapter.

Technical Abstract: Improved management of agricultural and other terrestrial lands offers considerable potential to mitigate climate change. Currently, 83% of the world’s land area is directly influenced by human interventions (Sanderson et al. 2002), about half of the terrestrial earth’s surface is extensively managed and 25% is intensively managed (UNEP, 2005). Agricultural lands, including arable land, permanent crops and pasture, occupy about 40% of the earth’s land surface (FAOSTAT, 2007), mostly under pasture and rangelands (~70%), cropland (25%) and permanent crops (<3%). Estimates are that by early this century, most of the terrestrial biosphere will be under some degree of management (Vitousek, 1994), and how these lands are managed will impact directly on the potential for mitigation of climate change. In terms of forcing agents for climate change, the Pew Centre (2006) reports that anthropogenic factors were relatively unimportant during the first few decades of the 20th Century (compared to changes in solar energy and volcanic activity), but emissions associated with the use of fossil fuels assumed dominance during the last half of the century. The Stern Review (Stern, 2007) reports that current levels of GHG gases in the atmosphere are approximately 430 ppm carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 e), and rising at more than 2 ppm each year. The Review emphasizes that risks of the worst impacts of climate change can be substantially reduced if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere can be stabilized between 450 and 550 ppm CO2 e, but stabilization in this range requires that emissions be reduced by at least 25 % below current levels by 2050. Anderson and Bows (2008) recently reported that a complete decarbonization of the economy by 2050 is required to stabilize atmospheric CO2 e concentrations at 450 ppm. Global emissions of GHGs are steadily increasing. Between 1970 and 2004, global emissions increased by 70 %, from 28.7 to 49 Pg CO2 e. Carbon dioxide emissions increased by about 80 % and represented 77 % of total anthropogenic GHG emissions. During this period, emissions from the energy supply sector increased by 145 %, transport 120 %, industry 65 %, land use change, and forestry, 40 %, and agriculture by 27 % (IPCC, 2007). Agriculture and land use change, which mainly contribute to non-energy GHG emissions, collectively accounted for about 35 % of total emissions, with China, India, Brazil, and the USA being the largest sources of non-CO2 GHGs. Global Mitigation Potential In addition to emission reductions, climate change can be mitigated by enhancing carbon sinks and promoting carbon sequestration, particularly in terrestrial and oceanic systems. Agriculture, along with forestry and land use change, can make significant contributions by removing carbon from the atmosphere through soil organic carbon sequestration (see Box 1), and by providing biomass for energy sources. The opportunity for carbon sequestration arises because of the already degraded organic carbon status of most cultivated soils. Lackner (2003) estimated the global storage capacity of soil organic carbon at roughly 100 Pg C, slightly greater than the potential for carbon storage in woody biomass, and less than the potential for carbon storage in the ocean. DISCUSSION Between 2000 and 2030, the total GHG emissions from agriculture are expected to increase by about 50% (Verge et al., 2007). Mitigation techniques such as improved feed quality, improved manure management, improved fertilizer use and greater applied N efficiency, and improved water management in rice paddies all have to be considered in order to minimize the impact of agriculture on climate. The agricultural sector was once a major contributor to GHG emissions, but it has been superseded by the energy and transportation sectors. However, all sectors have a role to play and all must be mobilized in the collective efforts to mitigate global climate change. Significantly, agriculture has an important role because of the large land areas involved, and because there are already many available technologies and opportunities in agriculture to contribute to the global mitigation effort, many of which can be implemented with minimal or no cost. Although deforestation is often treated as an issue in forestland management, it is also an important link with land use change and the conversion of forested land to agriculture. Annual emissions from land-use change during the 1990s, considering the collective impacts of CO2, CH4, and N2O, accounted for about 20-25 % of the total anthropogenic emissions of GHGs (Houghton 2005). FAO (2005) estimates that about 15.4 million hectares of tropical forests were lost each year during the 1980s, 10.1 million hectares were lost annually from 1990 to 2000, and 10.4 million hectares were lost annually from 2000-2005. Agricultural expansion was by far the leading cause at a global scale, whether through forest conversion for permanent cropping, cattle ranching, shifting cultivation or colonization agriculture. The most prominent underlying causes of deforestation and degradation are economic factors, weak institutions and inadequate national policies, and other remote influences such as wood extraction, and road and infrastructure extension, that drive proximate causes of agricultural expansion. REFERENCES Anderson, K., and A. Bows, 2008. Reframing the climate change challenge in light of post-2000 trends. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. doi:10.1098/rsta.2008.0138. 20pp. Caldeira K., Morgan MG, Baldocchi D, Brewer PG, Chen CTA, Nabuurs GJ, Nakicenovic N, and Robertson GP. 2004. A portfolio of carbon management options. In CB Field, and MR Raupach (eds). The Global Carbon Cycle. Integrating Humans, Climate, and the Natural World,. SCOPE 62, Island Press, Washington DC, pp.103-129 FAO, 2005. Global Forest Resources Assessment. FAO, Rome FAO, 2007. FAO Statistical Service. http://faostat.fao,org IPCC, 2000.: Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry. Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, UK, pp. 375. IPCC. 2007. Climate Change: The Scientific Basis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. Karieva, P., Watts, S., McDonald, R., and Boucher, T. 2007. Domesticated nature: Shaping landscapes and ecosystems for human welfare. Science Magazine 29: 319, 1866-69. Lackner, K.S. 2003. Climate Change: A guide to CO2 sequestration. Science 300: no. 5626, pp 1677-1678 Lal, R. 2000. Soil Management in developing countries. Soil Sci. 165: 57-72. Lal, R. 2006. Enhancing crop yields in developing countries through restoration of soil organic carbon pool in agricultural lands. Land Degrad. & Dev. 17: 197-209. Lal, R. 2007. Constraints to adopting no-till farming in developing countries. Soil & Tillage Res. 94: 1-3. Pacala, S. and R. Socolow. 2004. Stabilization wedges: solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies. Science 305: 968-972. Pew Centre, 2006. 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