Agriculture and forestry could play meaningful roles in reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the world, but lack of financing and know-how remain important barriers, according to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
A summary of the report for policymakers estimates with "high confidence" that ag and forestry practices could cut global emissions by eight to 14 billion tons per year at a cost of under $100 a ton. As much as half that reduction could be attained at a cost of less than $20 a ton “and could be upscaled in the near term across most regions,” the report said.
Global emissions totaled 59 billion tons in 2019.
Up to 7.4 billion tons of emissions could be prevented by restoring and better managing forests. Better management of crops and livestock and carbon sequestration practices on ag lands could reduce emissions by 1.8 billion to 4.1 billion tons a year.
Another 2.1 billion tons could be saved by reducing food loss and waste and a shift to “sustainable, healthy diets.”
The report also finds that “demand-side measures together with the sustainable intensification of agriculture “ could reduce emissions of methane from livestock and nitrous oxide from croplands and make more land available for reforestation and restoration.
The panel says measures to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions show “promising results,” but their adoption is “still constrained by cost, the diversity and complexity of agricultural systems, and by increasing demands to raise agricultural yields, and increasing demand for livestock products.”
Many large farms have installed digesters to capture methane from cattle manure, but the equipment is too costly for smaller operations.
Nitrous oxide is emitted from fields after nitrogen fertilizer is applied.
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In an analysis of the IPCC report, the World Resources Institute said the panel found that “protecting, restoring and sustainably managing carbon-rich ecosystems like forests and peatlands — as well as reducing the GHG intensity of food production, curbing food waste, and shifting to more sustainable diets” could reduce emissions “at relatively low costs.”
However, the group notes that other research finds "more limited mitigation potentials for several agricultural practices included” in the IPCC report.
The IPCC report itself cautions that measures to reduce emissions in agriculture, forestry and land use “can deliver large-scale GHG emission reductions and enhanced removals, but cannot fully compensate for delayed action in other sectors.”
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