Big Facts on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security


Region Description
North America Need to reduce consumer food waste, which in the United States contributes 2% of total GHG emissions. Measures to enhance soil carbon sequestration—including reduced tillage, shorter fallow periods, incorporating more perennial crops, switching to short-rotation woody crops, conversion of cropland to pasture, and setting aside cropland—are among the most promising mitigation options in this region (Olander et al., 2011). The United States eats more meat per capita than any other country: over 322 grams per person per day (or 120 kg per year), compared with an average of about 200 grams in Europe and 100 grams around the world (UNEP, 2012). A recent study suggests that the life-cycle CO2e emissions embedded in 1 kg of U.S.-grown beef are 30 times those of domestic wheat production. Factoring in the carbon cost of beef production, using a carbon price of $10-$85 per tonne, would increase supermarket prices for beef by 5-40% (Sanders & Webber, 2014).
Latin America High potential to reduce methane emissions from the agricultural sector, which currently make up 66.3% of total methane emissions. Latin America is the region with the highest level of emissions originating from forestry and other land use (FOLU), some 1.25 Gt CO2 per year. Thanks to declining deforestation in Brazil, however, FOLU emissions have fallen after peaking in the 1980s (FAOSTAT, 2013). Of the three main strategies for lowering emissions from forestry, reduced deforestation accounts for three fifths of the mitigation potential in Latin American forests, while afforestation and improved forest management make up approximately one fifth each (Smith et al., 2014).
Europe It has been estimated that if European agriculture could overcome all barriers to cutting emissions, the full biophysical mitigation potential would be 200 Mt CO2 per year. But the feasible potential, given current market conditions and carbon prices, is about one tenth of this (Smith, 2012). There is an opportunity to reduce emissions along supply chains, which currently contribute up to 50% of emissions in high-income countries. Per capita food waste in Europe is estimated at over 280 kg per year, of which 40% is lost at the level of retail and consumers (FAO, 2011). Like other high-income countries, European nations have food loss rates around 20% of the total food supply, on average (Williams and Wikström, 2011).
North Africa and West Asia Need to restore degraded lands and prevent soil erosion, which undermines food productivity and releases GHGs. Promoting the use of compost manure instead of chemical fertilizers is a promising option for mixed agrarian livelihoods in West Africa. The practice combines mitigation and adaptation benefits. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) lists agriculture, forestry and fisheries among the sectors with the greatest potential for job creation and green growth in this region. A green-growth strategy that integrates mitigation and adaptation strategies for agriculture could hold much potential to alleviate poverty in West Africa, where up to 70% of the labor force is involved in farming (UNECA, 2013).
Sub-Saharan Africa >90% of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is rain-fed, and water supplies are expected to shrink and become more erratic in most regions. Local-level water management—through micro-catchments, dams and tanks, or small-scale irrigation from underground water, for instance—is crucial for adaptation. Furthermore, where systems for land tenure are uncertain or insecure, farmers have less incentive to make long-term planning and investment decisions (Byran et al., 2009).
East and South East Asia High potential to reduce emissions from rice farming. Mangrove forests, sea grass beds and salt marshes are highly effective at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and they contribute almost 50% of the total organic carbon burial in ocean sediments. South East Asia holds 30-40% of the world's mangrove forests. Conserving these habitats will help to stem GHG emissions, shield the coast from storm surges, preserve marine habitats, support the productivity of coastal fisheries and protect coastal communities (Giesen, 2007).
South Asia Better cropland management and agronomy practices can increase yields and soil carbon storage. Practices such as low tillage and maintaining permanent soil cover not only preserve soil and reduce GHG emissions, but can also reduce impacts from flooding, erosion, drought, heavy rains and winds (FAO 2007). There is much potential to reduce emissions from enteric fermentation in India. Improved feeding practices in dairy production from cattle and buffalo could save some 70 Mt CO2e per year. If non-cattle ruminants (e.g., water buffalo, sheep and goats) and livestock for non-dairy production are included, this mitigation potential nearly doubles (Dickie et al. 2014).