Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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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 fuels; and,
  • 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); and,
  • 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.

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