Agriculture, so often cited as a factor in global decline - for claiming natural grasslands that store carbon, soil erosion and pesticide runoff - could become a big part of the solution to global warming, according to a hopeful report by Worldwatch Institute released today.
Innovations in food production and land use that are ready to be put to work could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to roughly 25 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and be managed to reduce carbon already in the atmosphere as well, according to WWI and Ecoagriculture Partners.
Carbon capture technology remains unproven and will take a decade at least to put into operation. By contrast, agricultural and land use management practices that are ready today could be employed to sequester carbon through photosynthesis by growing and sustaining more plants.
To understand how and why the agricultural approach to climate change must be a part of the solution, the public first needs to recognize that the world must "go negative" with carbon emissions - producing fewer than it churns out to reach the necessary reductions by 2050, said Sara Scherr, co-author with Sajal Sthapit of the report, Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use.
Policymakers must go beyond improving energy efficiency and scaling up renewables and add ways to pull down emissions from forestry and agriculture operations.
More than 30 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gases are linked to agriculture and land use, notes the report, which rivals the combined emissions of the transportation and industry sectors.
The report outlines five ways to reduce and sequester carbon using farming strategies:
* Enriching soil carbon. Soil, the third largest carbon pool on Earth's surface, can be managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing tillage, cutting use of nitrogen fertilizers, and preventing erosion. Soils can store a vast amount of additional carbon by building up organic matter and by burying carbon in the form of biochar (biomass burned in a low-oxygen environment).
* Farming with perennials. Two-thirds of all arable land is used to grow annual grains, but there is large potential to substitute these with perennial trees, shrubs, palms, and grasses that produce food, livestock feed, and fuel. These perennials maintain and develop their roots and branches over many years, storing carbon in the vegetation and soil.
* Climate-friendly livestock production. Livestock accounts for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use. Innovations such as rotational grazing, manure management, methane capture for biogas production, and improved feeds and feed additives can reduce livestock-related emissions.
* Protecting natural habitat. Deforestation, land clearing, and forest and grassland fires are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Incentives are needed to encourage farmers, ranchers, and foresters to maintain natural forest and grassland habitats through product certification, payments for climate services, securing tenure rights, and community fire control.
* Restoring degraded watersheds and range lands. Restoring vegetation on vast areas of degraded land can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while making land productive again, protecting critical watersheds, and alleviating rural poverty.
Report: Agriculture Holds the Key to Solving Global Warming
By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now ABC7, June 2, 2009
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