How do agri-food systems contribute to climate change?

Agriculture and food security are exposed to impacts and risks related to the changing climate in several ways. On the other hand, agriculture and food production activities are also responsible for part of the greenhouse gas emissions that in turn cause climate change.

According to the latest conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, together with deforestation and other human actions that change the way land is used (codename: AFOLU, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use), accounts for about a quarter of emissions contributing to climate change.

GHG emissions from farming activities consist mainly of non-CO2 gases: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) produced by bacterial decomposition processes in cropland and grassland soils and by livestock’s digestive systems.

The latest estimates released in 2014 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization [pdf] showed that emissions from crop and livestock production and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years, from 2.7 billion tonnes CO2e in 1961 to more than 5.3 billion tonnes CO2e in 2011.

During the last ten years covered by FAO data (2001-2011) agricultural emissions increased by 14 percent (primarily in developing countries that expanded their agricultural outputs), while almost in the same years (2001-2010) net GHG emissions due to land use change and deforestation decreased by around 10 percent (due to reduced levels of deforestation and increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks).

The current situation, as highlighted by a recent study led by FAO and published in Global Change Biology, sees farming activities more responsible for climate pollution than deforestation. Even thought emissions from agriculture and land use change are growing at a slower rate than emissions from fossil fuels, emissions reduction achieved thanks to better forest and soil management are cancelled out by a more intensive and energy-consuming food production systems. The FAO estimated that without increased efforts to address and reduce them, GHG emissions from the sector could increase by an additional 30 percent by 2050.

In a recent study published on Nature Climate Change, scientists pointed out that “the intensification of agriculture (the Green Revolution, in which much greater crop yield per unit area was achieved by hybridization, irrigation and fertilization) during the past five decades is a driver of changes in the seasonal characteristics of the global carbon cycle”.

As shown in the graph below, livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed nearly two-thirds of the total GHG agricultural emissions produced in the last years, with synthetic fertilizers and rice cultivation being the other major sources.

According to another report by FAO (“Tackling climate change through livestock”, accessible here in pdf), the livestock sector is estimated to emit 7.1 billion tonnes CO2-eq per year, with beef and cattle milk production accounting for the majority of the sector’s emissions (41 and 19 percent respectively).

Emission intensities (i.e. emissions per unit of product) are highest for beef (almost 300 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of protein produced), followed by meat and milk from small ruminants (165 and 112kg CO2-eq.kg respectively). Cow milk, chicken products and pork have lover global average emission intensities (below 100 CO2-eq/kg). However, emission intensity widely varies at sub-global level due to the different practices and inputs to production used around the world. According to FAO, the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change and has a high potential for emission reduction.

Together with increasing conversion of land to agricultural activities and the use of fertilizers, increasing energy use from fossil fuels is one of the main drivers that boosted agricultural emissions in the last decades. FAO estimated that in 2010 emissions from energy uses in food production sectors (including emissions from fossil fuel energy needed i.e. to power machinery, irrigation pumps and fishing vessels) amounted to 785 million tonnes CO2e.

FAO latest data show that in the past two decades around 40 percent of GHG agricultural outputs (including emissions from energy use) are based in Asia. The Americas has the second highest GHG emissions (close to 25 percent), followed by Africa, Europe and Oceania.

According to FAO, since 1990 the top ten emitters are: China, India, US, Brazil, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, Argentina, Pakistan and Sudan.

Agricultural emissions plus energy by country, average 1990-2012. FAOSTAT database

The need for climate-smart agriculture and food production systems becomes even more compelling when considering the shocking level of waste within the global food system. According to the first FAO study to focus on the environmental impacts of food wastage, released in 2013 (accessible here in pdf), each year food that is produced and gone to waste amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.

Food wastage’s carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere per year, to which must be added significant amounts of agricultural areas (1.4 billion hectares, globally) and water (250km3) used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.

How to meet global food needs (with global population projected to reach 9 billion in 2050) without overexploiting soil and water, and with lower emissions contributing to climate change (whose impacts in turn affect water and food security) is the greatest farming challenge of of today’s and tomorrow’s world. More

Credit: Best Climate Practices

 

How do agri-food systems contribute to climate change?

caribbeanclimate

Agriculture and food security are exposed to impacts and risks related to the changing climate in several ways. On the other hand, agriculture and food production activities are also responsible for part of the greenhouse gas emissions that in turn cause climate change.

According to the latest conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, together with deforestation and other human actions that change the way land is used (codename: AFOLU, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use), accounts for about a quarter of emissions contributing to climate change.

IPCC-WGIII-AR5-2014-emissions-by-economic-sectors-fig-TS3 - Crop
Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sectors. Fig. TS.3, IPCC AR5 WGIII, Mitigation of Climate Change, Technical Summary, 2014

GHG emissions from farming activities consist mainly of non-CO2 gases: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) produced by bacterial decomposition processes in cropland and grassland soils and by livestock’s digestive systems.

The latest estimates released in 2014 by the UN Food and…

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Cutting off the Somali Lifeline, a heated debate in Somaliland

According to Oxfam’s report, Keeping the Life Line Open – Remittances and Markets in Somalia, Somalis abroad use money transfer companies to send home an estimated $1.3 billion annually. These companies have a presence throughout the Somali territories and beyond, and together they provide basic financial services.

In January 2015, Merchants Bank of California, which handles an estimated 60 to 80 percent of the remittances sent to Somali territories from the United States, announced the closure of its business with Somali-American money transfer operators (MTOs). This has created a heated debate amongst Somali communities all over the world due to the fact that remittances have played a huge role in boosting the Somali economy amidst the turmoil over the past two decades. In a bid to address this matter, Red Sea Cultural Foundation organized a public lecture and debate at the Hargeysa Cultural Centre, in Somaliland, under the theme: “Breaking the Lifeline: the Crisis Facing Somali Remittances from the US” on the night of 12 February 2015.

The discussion was led by Dr. Laura Hammond, Head of the Development Studies Department of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), with the participation of influential members from the government, international organisations, MTOs, university students, remittance senders and recipients.

From basic needs and school fees to business start up

Dr. Hammond discussed the recent decision of Merchants Bank, to close the accounts of Somali money transfer companies, in the context of similar dynamics that took place in the UK in 2013. Dr. Hammond reflected on a study she undertook for FSNAU “Family Ties: Remittances and Livelihoods Support in Puntland and Somaliland” on receipt of remittances in both urban and rural areas of Somaliland and Puntland.

Her study shed light on what Somalis primarily use the remittances for and highlighted that millions of Somalis are dependent on the remittances on a daily basis. A large portion of remittances are spent on basic needs and have also been used to build hospitals, schools, start businesses and other communal development projects. MTOs are also used by the students to pay their tuition fees, for traders to buy goods, and non-governmental organisations including UN agencies to deliver aid.

Impact on families ties and the new Somali generation

“Somalis have a deep-rooted traditional value where they uphold their family ties. One way of expressing this is through sending remittances. Therefore, breaking that lifeline means breaking up their relationships,” said Dr. Bulhan, a Somali-American scholar currently living in Somaliland.

“Cutting off the Somali lifeline will destroy the hope of many youth who are dependent on the remittances,” said Abduladif Abby, an aspiring Somaliland youth “the closure of MTOs will trigger the resentment on which terrorist groups thrive. But the truth is no one suffers more from insurgence than us Somalis!”

“Remittances are not sustainable though,” said Dr. Bulhan “because the young generation of the Somali Diaspora are not like their parents, connected to their families back home; they do not care anymore! So we’re likely to see a reduction of remittances sent from abroad in the next generation.”

Terrorist financing and money laundering

Dr. Hammond anticipated the possible impacts of the cut and the fact that people will pay higher rates, so less money may get through. “They will be forced to engage in illegal sending making them vulnerable; and for those who would like to engage in terrorist financing, money laundering, etc. this is a golden opportunity for them,” she explained.

During the discourse, the Minister of Somaliland National Planning and Development raised the rights of American and European citizens to send money back home to their relatives as being violated. Dr. Saad A. Shire also assured that Somalis will send the money anyway. “They will find more new ways,” he said.

More regulation and transparency

Looking into the future, Dr. Hammond reiterated the Oxfam recommendation to establish regulatory regime, including assurance for banks working with approved MTOs. She also mentioned the ‘Safer Corridor Pilot Project’ and maintained the need to educate banks about how MTOs work and what remittances are used for. She mentioned the requirement of more regulation and oversight on part of the Somaliland government and more cooperation and transparency by MTOs. More

In conclusion, the debate was lively and among the issues raised was the need to have more open discussions on conventional banking systems in Somaliland, and a call to pass the regulatory laws on remittances and anti-money laundering.

Act now

With Oxfam America, tell the US Treasury: Step in and take action to keep the money transfer lifeline open

 

Climate change may dramatically reduce wheat production, study shows

Vara Prasad, professor of crop ecophysiology and director of the USAID Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab at Kansas State University, is part of a collaborative team that found wheat yields are projected to decrease by 6 percent for each degree Celsius the temperature rises if no measures to adapt to extreme weather fluctuations are taken.

Based on the 2012-2013 wheat harvest of 701 million tons worldwide, the resulting temperature increase would result in 42 million tons less produced wheat — or a loss of nearly one-quarter of the current wheat production.

“It’s pretty severe,” Prasad said. “The projected effect of climate change on wheat is more than what has been forecast. That’s challenging because the world will have to at least double our food supply in the next 30 years if we’re going to feed 9.6 billion people.”

Prasad and colleagues published their study, “Rising temperatures reduce global wheat production,” in a recent issue of the scientific journal Nature Climate Change. The study was supported through the Kansas Wheat Commission and the Kansas Wheat Alliance, two organizations seeking ways to increase wheat yield.

For the study, researchers systematically tested 30 wheat crop models against field experiments from around the world that were conducted in areas where the average temperature of the growing season ranged from 15 to 32 degrees Celsius. The models accounted for planting dates, planting rates, temperatures and other crop management factors.

With the models, researchers were able to look at the effects of temperature stresses on wheat and predict future changes based on temperature changes.

Researchers found that the effects from climate change and its increasing temperatures on wheat will be more severe than once projected and are happening sooner than expected. While Prasad said increases in the average temperature are problematic, a bigger challenge is the extreme temperatures that are resulting from climate change.

“Extreme temperature doesn’t only mean heat; it also means cold,” Prasad said. “Simply looking at the average temperature doesn’t really show us anything because it’s the extremities that are more detrimental to crops. Plants can handle gradual changes because they have time to adapt, but an extreme heat wave or cold snap can kill a plant because that adjustment period is often nonexistent.”

Researchers also found that increasing temperatures are shortening the time frame that wheat plants have to mature and produce full heads for harvest, resulting in less grain produced from each plant.

“It’s like having one minute to fill a tall glass with water. Under optimal conditions, we can fill that glass pretty well,” Prasad said. “But now we’re factoring in extreme temperatures that are affecting the growing window and the grain size. So it becomes like trying to fill that same glass, but now we only have 40 seconds to do it and the faucet is running slower.”

Currently, Prasad and colleagues at Kansas State University, in collaboration with the university’s Wheat Genetics Resource Center, are using growth chambers and heats tents to quantify the effects of temperature. The data will help in refining the crop models so that they can be more accurate in predicting wheat responses.

Their work will help scientists develop more robust models that can help farmers globally select more weather-tolerant and resilient wheat varieties based on their location. Additionally, farmers can determine the optimal planting date to avoid stress and minimize possible exposure to extreme weather events, such as heat and cold snaps, during the growing season. More

 

CARICOM Special Meetings Focus on CCREEE, Sustainable Energy

5 February 2015: The Caribbean Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (CCREEE) and the Caribbean region's sustainable energy strategies were at the center stage at two Special Meetings of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

The ministerial meetings on energy and the environment focused on the establishment of the CCREEE, regional energy coordination and sustainable energy strategies, and the post-2015 development agenda, among other themes.

The establishment of the CCREEE, which was endorsed by COTED in November 2014, was on the agenda of the Special Meetings on Energy, and Energy and the Environment, held in Georgetown, Guyana, from 4-5 February. The meetings, among other things, explored “the full ramifications and optimum exploitations of CCREEE.” CCREEE is currently in the process of being established with the assistance of the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Austrian Government and SIDS DOCK initiative of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The Centre's mandate will be technical, namely to support and coordinate the execution of CARICOM's sub-regional and regional renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes, projects and activities.

Calling for a “cohesive regional effort” to achieve sustainable energy security, Chair of the Special Meeting on Energy, and Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining of Jamaica Phillip Paulwell said that “although sustainable energy solutions have made great strides” in the CARICOM region, significant gaps and barriers remained in the areas of renewable energy access, energy efficiency and reliable grid development and deployment.

CARICOM Deputy Secretary-General Manorma Soeknandan similarly noted that, despite progress made, “significant additional changes” would need to be made to meet the demands for reliable, secure, efficient and cost-effective energy services, suggesting that “energy is about sustainable livelihoods and job creation alike.”

The 54th and 55th Special Meetings of COTED, held at the CARICOM Secretariat, were preceded by preparatory sessions among regional officials from the fields of energy and the environment. [CARICOM Today Press Release on CCREEE] [CARICOM Today Press Release on Paulwell's Speech] [CARICOM Today Press Release on Soeknandan's Speech]

 

Branson urges students to lobby leaders for clean energy

Cayman could be ‘carbon neutral’ in six years, says entrepreneur

Sir Richard Branson told Cayman Islands students they need to lobby their government to go green. He said the island could save money and be “carbon neutral” within six years if leaders committed to clean energy.

Sir Richard Branson

Speaking at a forum for students at Camana Bay on Friday, Sir Richard sounded a dire warning for the world’s coral reefs, saying it may already be too late to save marine ecosystems from the impact of global warming.

But he said more could be done to move toward clean energy and lessen the impact of carbon emissions on the environment.

And he said young people would need to lead the campaign for more environmentally friendly policies from their governments.

“If a group of you, just the people here, put placards above your head and went to the government, you’ve got a force to be reckoned with,” he said.

“The Cayman Islands could be carbon neutral in five or six years and save themselves a lot of money, but it needs absolute determination from the government to get you there.”

Sir Richard acknowledged it is difficult to get governments to think beyond the short term. But he said he is optimistic that international leaders would put the necessary policies in place to achieve total clean energy across the globe within the next 50 years.

The billionaire businessman, who owns his own Caribbean island powered completely from renewable sources, believes the energy revolution can start in the region.

He has launched a “10-island challenge,” starting in Aruba, to assist small islands in moving toward 100 percent renewable energy.

“It would be great if we could get the Cayman Islands to join and make it the 11-island challenge,” he said.

“I’ll be bending the arm of your prime minister [sic] later today to see if we can get him on board.”

Sir Richard believes the Caribbean can be a hot house of innovation in the clean energy sector, and he told the students there would be many opportunities for scientists and entrepreneurs to tackle the world’s problems.

“If we move forward to when you are 50 or 60, I hope the world will be powered completely by clean energy. It is definitely doable,” he added. More

 

The US is heading for a ‘megadrought’ if climate change continues at this pace

The long and severe drought in the US southwest pales in comparison with what’s coming: a “megadrought” that will grip that region and the central plains later this century and probably stay there for decades, a new study says.

Thirty-five years from now, if the current pace of climate change continues unabated, those areas of the country will experience a weather shift that will linger for as long as three decades, according to the study, released Thursday.

Researchers from Nasa and Cornell and Columbia universities warned of major water shortages and conditions that dry out vegetation, which can lead to monster wildfires in southern Arizona and parts of California.

“We really need to start thinking in longer-term horizons about how we’re going to manage it,” said Toby R Ault, an assistant professor in the department of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Cornell, one of the co-authors. “This is a slow-moving natural hazard that humans are used to dealing with and used to managing.”

Megadroughts are sustained periods of sparse precipitation and significant loss of soil moisture that span generations, about 10 times as long as a normal three-year drought.

Tucson had less than 80 percent of its normal rainfall for long stretches in the 1990s. If that were to last for two decades, “that’s a megadrought,” Ault said.

Based on climate models the researchers used for the study, there is an 80 percent chance that such an extended drought will strike between 2050 and 2099, unless world governments act aggressively to mitigate impacts from climate change, the researchers said.

North America’s last megadroughts happened in medieval times, during the 12th and 13th centuries. They were caused by natural changes in weather that give megadroughts a 10 percent chance of forming at any time.

But climate change driven by human activity dramatically increases those chances. “With climate change, the likelihood of a megadrought goes up considerably,” Ault said.

The other writers for the study were its lead author, Benjamin I Cook, a research scientist for NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and co-author Jason E Smerdon, a research professor at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The report was published Thursday in the journal Science Advances.

“We got some exciting, thrilling and important research,” said Marcia Kemper McNutt, a geophysicist and editor in chief of the journal Science. “We are facing a water situation that hasn’t been seen in California for 1,200 years.”

At the study’s presentation, Ault had a word of caution. Weather conditions can vary, climate impacts can be mitigated, and the warnings of the study might not come to pass. A single El Niño weather pattern in the West could interrupt periods of prolonged drought.

Smerdon said the researchers went back over a thousand years’ worth of data to look at conditions that caused drought in North America and observing patterns in tree rings to determine wet and dry periods.

After 2050, there is “overwhelming evidence of a dry shift,” he said, “way drier than the megadroughts of the 1100s and 1200s.” The cause, Smerdon continued, “is twofold, reductions in rainfall and snowfall. Not just rainfall but soil moisture and changes in evaporation that dry out the soil much more than normal.”

The research is newly published, but its findings are not dramatically different from similar studies in the past. Beverly Law, a specialist in global change biology at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, co-authored a study of megadroughts three years ago.

It showed that a drought that affected the American West from 2000 to 2004 compared to conditions seen during the medieval megadroughts. But the predicted megadrought this century would be far worse. Law said Thursday’s study confirmed her previous findings.

“We took the climate model and compared” two periods, 2050 to 2099 and 1950 to 1999, she said. “What it showed is this big, red blotch over Southern California. It will really impact megacities, populations and water availability.”

Law is also co-author of an upcoming study commissioned by the U.S. Geological Survey about forest mortality later this century, and the preliminary findings are disturbing, she said.

According to predictions, the amount of precipitation in Arizona will be half of what it was between 1950 and 1999.

“We have drinking water to be concerned about,” she said. “That area’s really vulnerable.” More