Agriculture and forestry are responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, but could be turned into powerful allies in the fight against global warming, according to a new study. EURACTIV France reports.
In an assessment of business contributions to combating climate change, Stéphane Le Foll, the French Agriculture Minister said, “The agricultural sector has a responsibility to reduce its emissions, but it can also offer solutions for greenhouse gas reduction.”
“This is about considering the ecological challenge of the fight against climate change, the challenge to food production and the challenges of agriculture and forestry as one entity,” the minister said. He added that “The answer to the big environmental questions is not to reduce agricultural production, but to adapt.”
The CGAEER report states that “the agricultural and forestry sectors are accountable for 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change”.
Adapting to climate challenges
In France, the agricultural sector emits around 100 million tons of CO2 each year, roughly 20% of the country’s total. The country’s forests could work as an efficient counterweight to emissions, with the capacity to capture up to 75 million tons of CO2 per year. However, their effectiveness is negated by the ploughing up of grassland and the laying of artificial surfaces.
Four tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
Among the proposed measures, the report underlines the need for agricultural practices to evolve into agroecology. The objective is to enable the “land sector” to play a major role in the reduction of greenhouse gasses, contributing between 20% and 60% of the total reduction by 2030.
Farmers would be expected to make carbon savings in the domains of livestock rearing (reducing methane output and the carbon footprint of feed), fertilising (more precise application) and carbon capture (simplifying soil processing, lengthening crop rotations).
Another great contribution would be made by reversing the trend of artificialisation, the covering of natural surfaces. 70,000 hectares are urbanised each year in France, and 90,000 hectares of grassland are ploughed up. If the current rate of surface artificialisation in France was halved, it could lead to a reduction of 8 to 10 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.
Increasing wood harvests by 20 million cubic metres and replanting 50,000 hectares per year with fast growing varieties would enhance the role of the forests in carbon capture. This would represent a “potential substitution of at least 40 million tons of CO2 per year by 2030, and an extra 5 million tons per year of CO2 capture,” according to the report’s coordinator, Marie-Laurence Madignier.
Finally, the report highlights the importance of reducing food waste, which currently accounts for 30% of the French production. This results in wasted emissions all along the food chain, particularly during the transport and distribution of products. According to statistics from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a 20% reduction in this waste would allow France to “cut emissions along the whole food chain estimated at 10 million tons of CO2 per year”, Marie-Laurence Madignier explained.
The implementation of all these measures could allow the “land sector” to cut its emissions by up to 50%.
Stéphane Le Foll defends his agroecology project
At the first international symposium on agroecology on Friday 19 September, held at the seat of the FAO in Rome, Stéphane Le Foll underlined France’s commitment to agroecology, one of his flagship projects. The delegates at this international meeting shared knowledge and practices for “more productive and sustainable agriculture, forestry and fishing”. The minister promoted this objective in an editorial in the Huffington Post, published the same day.
Le Foll pointed out that the CGAAER report is only the first stage in the discussion process, saying that France wants to continue the discussions with its European neighbours, especially Ireland, which “has put a lot of work into these questions”.
In October 2011, the European Commission unveiled its propositions for ‘greening’ the CAP. These propositions for the period 2014-2020 involve:
- Increasing biodiversity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Using direct payments to encourage farmers to rotate crops, with the aim of reducing the use of fertilisers and pesticides
- Setting aside at least 7% of land for areas of ecological interest, buffer zones or permanent grasslands to reduce emissions.
December 2015: Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Cop21) in Paris.