11.1.1 Special Character of Agriculture
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) challenges
the world community to take actions that will stabilise GHGs in the atmosphere
within the framework of sustainable development. This places a special responsibility
on agriculture, which must support an expected doubling of the world's food
and fibre needs in the next 30 years, while adapting to any climate change effects
experienced, and doing its proportional share to reduce net GHG emissions.
The ability of world agriculture to meet the needs of an expanding population
has, for the latter part of the 20th Century, been due to the development and
adoption of new technologies, rather than to the expansion of cultivated land
(IPCC Working Group I, 1996). In the face of limits to unused arable land or
additional water for irrigation, it is realistic to anticipate that meeting
future agricultural needs in the face of uncertain and, perhaps, changing climate
conditions, will rest even more heavily upon technology development and transfer.
The exposure of crops and animals outdoors to the vagaries of weather heightens
this challenge. Increasing social demand for environmentally sound technologies
(ESTs), and the need to address the opportunities for reducing GHG emissions
and increasing the sequestration and long-term storage of carbon within agricultural
soils, heightens the challenge.
Enhancing the role of agriculture in meeting the goals of the UNFCCC will require
attention to speeding the development and transfer of technologies that will:
- Reduce the consumption, or improve the production efficiency, of inputs
based on fossil fuels;
- Reduce the emission of GHGs from soil deterioration, animal metabolism
or waste, nutrient cycling, or water management;
- Increase the sustainable production of bio-energy crops to replace fossil
- Improve the capacity of agricultural systems to sequester carbon in soil
compounds and other forms of long-term terrestrial storage.
Policymakers should recognise, however, that the opportunities described above
are relatively modest, in the face of the total obligations under the UNFCCC,
and that they are significantly different in magnitude. It is estimated, for
example, that the potential opportunities in terms of total annual climate forcing
impact, as measured by million metric tons of carbon equivalent (TgC), are in
the following orders of magnitude:
- Production of bio-energy crops - 400 to 1,460 TgC (IPCC, 1996);
- Increased sequestration into soil carbon compounds in US - 75 to 208 TgC
(Lal et al., 1998);
- Reduced emissions from soils, animals, etc. - 576 to 1,386 TgC (IPCC, 1996);
- Reduced fossil fuel consumption in agriculture - 10 to 50 TgC (IPCC, 1996).
These compare with the total estimated annual GHG emissions of 6,000 TgC on
a global basis, and the current obligations for GHG emission reductions of 100-200
TgC under the Kyoto Protocol. These comparisons indicate that agriculture can
contribute to the goals of the UNFCCC, but only in a partial manner. The situation
facing individual Parties may be substantially different than the global estimates
indicate, and there may be little or no opportunity for improvement available
under some circumstances.