The overlooked link between food systems and climate change

Land use policy can have a significant impact in terms of climate change mitigation. Soil is the third largest carbon pool on earth, with more than 30% of all GHG emissions arising from the land use sector.

Of this some 15,000 Million tons CO2 equivalent, deforestation for agriculture or livestock accounts for just over half. Hence a REDD strategy is essential to develop at Copenhagen.

The balance, some 6,500M T comes from agriculture. Thus, the potential for land use policy to have an impact is huge, and, with it, essential benefits in terms of securing a healthy food supply and creating a more robust agricultural economy.

So why has this strategy been, to a large extent, ignored? World Watch report # 179 “Mitigating Climate Change through Food and Land Use” lists several factors. Interestingly, quite a few of these are what I would call “cultural”.

For example, the report states “most climate leaders come out of atmospheric science or energy sectors, and are little aware of …”, and again, describing the diversity and resulting level of complexity in land use emissions patterns and resulting mitigation strategies; “actually quite comparable to energy systems, but because energy issues are more familiar … tackling energy-based solutions may seem more manageable …” And, lets face it, Farming just isn’t as Sexy as Energy.

So what are some of these strategies? Carbon-rich farming is one broad area, and includes strategies such as the use of organic farming practices to reduce the use of chemical nitrogen fertilizers. Fertilized soils release more than 2 billion tones Co2 Equivalent of Nitrous Oxide annually. Another strategy is the use of rotational grazing systems to restore rangelands.

One advantage of these types of mitigation is that in terms of technology and practices immediately scalable. We need not wait for an exotic technology to develop, or mature. And, these strategies not only avoid emissions, but they can extract and sequester carbon, bringing about reductions now.

So what do we want out of Copenhagen to support these strategies? The report makes several recommendations:
1) Include the full range of terrestrial emission reduction, storage and sequestration options in climate policy and investment.
2) Incorporate farming and land use investments into cap-and-trade systems
3) Link terrestrial climate mitigation with adaptation, rural development, and conservation strategies.
4) Encourage large, area-based programs
5) Encourage voluntary markets for GHG emissions offsets from agriculture and land use (Go Brian!)
6) Mobilize a worldwide, networked movement for climate-friendly food, forest and other land based production (Where’s Rupert?)

To this I would add a seventh, a challenge for the branding/marketing/culture change folks among us – How do we get Agriculture as sexy as Energy?

The Worldwatch report mentioned above is avaliable from their site – – or by clicking on the image above, for $12.95. Well worth it, and supporting a great organization. A more general report, providing a great overview, is avaliable as a free download here:


[Originally posted at]

About William Robb

William Robb, AKA OtherWill - no not the Will you are thinking of just now, that other one - is the main contributor to this blog
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