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Agricultural emissions reduction target set; call for ambitious action

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West Africa
Latin America
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Low Emissions Development

In climate change plans submitted to the United Nations in 2016, 104 countries included intentions to reduce emissions in the agriculture sector, but no global target for mitigation from agriculture had been set. To fill this gap, scientists from CCAFS, with partners from 5 CGIAR centers (CIAT, CIFOR, CIMMYT, ILRI, and IRRI) and 15 partner organizations, calculated, for the first time, the reduction in emissions from the agriculture sector needed to limit warming to 2°C in 2100.

Through analyzing an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenario that results in a 66% or ‘likely’ chance of staying below the 2 °C warming limit and comparing it with business-as-usual emissions in agriculture from three integrated assessment models, scientists found that annual emissions from agriculture must be reduced by 1 gigatonne of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (GtCO2e/yr) by 2030 to stay within the 2°C limit.

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Analysis also revealed that currently available interventions – such as sustainable intensification of dairy production, alternate wetting and drying in irrigated rice, and nutrient management for annual crops – to achieve emission efficiencies will be necessary, yet insufficient, to achieve these targets. Scientists found that current interventions in the agriculture sector would only deliver between 21-40% of mitigation required.

“This research is a reality check,” Lini Wollenberg, leader of the CCAFS low emissions development research program and based at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment, said. “Countries want to take action on agriculture, but the options currently on offer won’t make the dent in emissions needed to meet the global targets agreed to in Paris. We need a much bigger menu of technical and policy solutions, with major investment to bring them to scale.”

Scientists called for urgent development and implementation of transformative technical options, such as methane inhibitors in the livestock sector and nitrogen inhibitors for major annual crops; innovative policies and standards, including climate finance and government and private sector support for sustainability standards; and support for farmers' capacity to use new practices. They identified the need for more research on sequestering soil carbon, increasing agroforestry and avoiding deforestation, decreasing food loss & waste and shifting dietary patterns.

Setting mitigation targets for agriculture is an issue that has continued to the climate change negotiations. At the meetings in Bonn in May 2016, and with support from the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), delegates from Ethiopia, Viet Nam and Colombia joined scientists from CCAFS, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and the National Wildlife Federation to discuss how countries can determine targets that are feasible, fair, and necessary to limit climate change. Since 2016, the 1 GtCO2e was also presented at the Eighth SBSTA Research Dialogue.


  • Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)
  • International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
  • International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)
  • International Rice Research Institute (IRRI)
  • International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
  • World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)
  • Wageningen University and Research Center
  • California Environmental Associates
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • Global Research Alliance for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA)
  • International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
  • French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA)
  • New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC)
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • The World Bank
  • Agricultural negotiators from Colombia, Ethiopia, and Viet Nam