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Agriculture Wasn’t Included In The Paris Climate Deal, But It Will Be Crucial To Meeting Its Goals

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

In December, nearly 200 nations met in Paris and unanimously agreed, in historic fashion, to a shared goal of keeping the world well below 2 degrees Celsius of warming. In order to achieve that, the participating nations each put forth a broad set of goals, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), and agreed to a number of provisions included in the text of the Paris agreement itself.

Agriculture, which accounts for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, was not mentioned in the body of the Paris agreement. And a new study suggests that agriculture might be falling short of what is really needed to achieve the goals set forth in Paris.

According to the study, published Tuesday in Global Change Biology, in order for the world to have a chance of staying below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — the goal of the Paris agreement — the agricultural sector would need to ramp up mitigation to the point that, by 2030, it is reducing emissions by 1 gigaton a year. Unfortunately, the study found, current mitigation strategies in the agricultural sector only get the world between 21 and 40 percent of the way toward what is required to keep the planet well below 2 degrees Celsius.

That means that emissions reductions from sectors like transportation or energy won’t be enough to keep the world below 2 degrees Celsius — the agricultural sector will need to considerably ramp up its investment in, and deployment of, technology to help farmers and food producers mitigate their own emissions.

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“We’re going to need investment in technologies that can double that amount, while maintaining food security — things like methane inhibitors for cattle, or inhibitors of nitrification in soil,” Meryl Richards, an agroecologist with the University of Vermont and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), told ThinkProgress.

Unfortunately, those technologies aren’t ready to be implemented yet, but Richards noted that creating new technologies is only part of the battle for mitigating agricultural emissions.

Agriculture Was Left Out Of The Paris Deal, But That Won’t Stop Countries From Taking It OnDespite claiming nearly half of the world’s land and accounting for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions…thinkprogress.org“We’re going to need a ton of investment in getting these technologies to farmers. A lot of them are technologically advanced and are things that will require training and finance,” Richards said. “We also need policies that encourage the implementation of these — subsidies, carbon taxes where appropriate. We need a package of good policy, technology, and investment to get us there.”

There’s some indication that countries are already moving to ramp up their commitment to reducing agricultural emissions. Some of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, like the United States and the European Union, have released plans to help curb agriculture’s contribution to climate change. Just last week, the United States Department of Agriculture released a report documenting the progress it has made in the last year on its plan to help farmers and food producers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and pledged to invest another $72.3 million in an initiative aimed at boosting carbon storage through the soil. In the EU, France is also leading the way with investments looking at soil’s potential for sequestering carbon, through the “4 pour 1000” initiative that aims to increase carbon soil storage by 0.4 percent, the annual increase needed to offset human emissions.

Other countries also appear to be considering agriculture as a crucial part of their emissions mitigation strategies. Of all of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted in the lead up to the Paris conference, more than 80 percent included strategies for mitigating the impact of agriculture on climate change, and 60 percent included strategies for adapting agriculture to climate change.

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Because those INDCs were largely vague on specific targets, Richards said it’s hard to tell exactly how aggressive countries will be when it comes to mitigating emissions from agriculture. But there are some hopefully examples. Ethiopia, she said, committed to reducing its agricultural emissions by 90 million tons, which she notes is 9 percent of the 1 gigaton of mitigation needed.

“That’s kind of at the scale of ambition that we need,” Richards said. “The key is going to be getting the necessary support, via finance, via technology outreach, to countries like Ethiopia that are planning ambitious targets so they can achieve that.”