IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

8.4.5 Potential implications of mitigation options for sustainable development

There are various potential impacts of agricultural GHG mitigation on sustainable development. The impacts of mitigation activities in agriculture, on the constituents and determinants of sustainable development are set out in Table 8.8. Broadly, three constituents of sustainable development have been envisioned as the critical minimum: social, economic, and environmental factors. Table 8.8 presents the degree and direction of the likely impact of the mitigation options. The exact magnitude of the effect, however, depends on the scale and intensity of the mitigation measures, and the sectors and policy arena in which they are undertaken.

Agriculture contributes 4% of global GDP (World Bank, 2003) and provides employment to 1.3 billion people (Dean, 2000). It is a critical sector of the world economy, but uses more water than any other sector. In low-income countries, agriculture uses 87% of total extracted water, while this figure is 74% in middle-income countries and 30% in high-income countries (World Bank, 2003). There are currently 276 Mha of irrigated croplands (FAOSTAT, 2006), a five-fold increase since the beginning of the 20th century. With irrigation increasing, water management is a serious issue. Through proper institutions and effective functioning of markets, water management can be implemented with favourable outcomes for both environmental and economic goals. There is a greater need for policy coherence and innovative responses creating a situation where users are asked to pay the full economic costs of the water. This has special relevance for developing countries. Removal of subsidies in the electricity and water sectors might lead to effective water use in agriculture, through adaptation of appropriate irrigation technology, such as drip irrigation in place of tube well irrigation.

Agriculture contributes nearly half of the CH4 and N2O emissions (Bhatia et al., 2004) and rice, nutrient, water and tillage management can help to mitigate these GHGs. By careful drainage and effective institutional support, irrigation costs for farmers can also be reduced, thereby improving economic aspects of sustainable development (Rao, 1994). An appropriate mix of rice cultivation with livestock, known as integrated annual crop-animal systems and traditionally found in West Africa, India and Indonesia and Vietnam, can enhance net income, improve cultivated agro-ecosystems, and enhance human well-being (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Such combinations of livestock and cropping, especially for rice, can improve income generation, even in semi-arid and arid areas of the world.

Groundwater quality may be enhanced and the loss of biodiversity can be influenced by the choice of fertilizer used and use of more targeted pesticides. Further, greater demand for farmyard manure would create income for the animal husbandry sector where usually the poor are engaged. Various country strategy papers on The Millennium Development Goal (MDG) clearly recommend encouragement to animal husbandry (e.g., World Bank, 2005). This is intended to enhance livelihoods and create greater employment. Better nutrient management can also improve environmental sustainability.

Controlling overgrazing through pasture improvement has a favourable impact on livestock productivity (greater income from the same number of livestock) and slows or halts desertification (environmental aspect). It also provides social security to the poorest people during extreme events such as drought (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa). One effective strategy to control overgrazing is the prohibition of free grazing, as was done in China (Rao, 1994) but approaches in other regions need to take into account cultural and institutional contexts. Dryland and desert areas have the highest number of poor people (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005) and measures to halt overgrazing, coupled with improved livelihood options (e.g., fisheries in Syria , Israel and other central Asian countries), can help reduce poverty and achieve sustainability goals.

Land cover and tillage management could encourage favourable impacts on environmental goals. A mix of horticulture with optimal crop rotations would promote carbon sequestration and could also improve agro-ecosystem function. Societal well-being would also be enhanced by providing water and enhanced productivity. While the environmental benefits of tillage/residue management are clear, other impacts are less certain. Land restoration will have positive environmental impacts, but conversion of floodplains and wetlands to agriculture could hamper ecological function (reduced water recharge, bioremediation, nutrient cycling, etc.) and therefore, could have an adverse impact on sustainable development goals (Kumar, 2001).

The other mitigation measures listed in Table 8.8 are context- and location-specific in their influence on sustainable development constituents. Appropriate adoption of mitigation measures is likely in many cases to help achieve environmental goals, but farmers may incur additional costs, reducing their returns and income. This trade-off would be most visible in the short term, but in the long term, synergy amongst the constituents of sustainable development would emerge through improved natural capital. Trade-offs between economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development might become less important if the environmental gains were better acknowledged, quantified, and incorporated in the decision-making framework.

Table 8.8: Potential sustainable development consequences of mitigation options

Activity category Sustainable development Notes 
Social Economic Environmental 
Croplands – agronomy 
Croplands – nutrient management 
Croplands – tillage/residues 
Croplands – water management 
Croplands – rice management 
Croplands – set-aside & LUC 
Croplands – agro-forestry 
Grasslands – grazing, nutrients, fire 
Organic soils – restoration 
Degraded soils – restoration 10 
Biosolid applications +/- 11 
Bioenergy +/- 12 
Livestock – feeding -/? 13 
Livestock – additives -/? n/d n/d 14 
Livestock – breeding -/? n/d n/d 14 
Manure management n/d n/d 15 


+ denotes beneficial impact on component of SD

- denotes negative impact

? denotes uncertain impact

n/d denotes no data

1 Improved yields would mean better economic returns and less land required for new cropland. Societal impact uncertain - impact could be positive but could negatively affect traditional practices.

2 Improved yields would mean better economic returns and less land required for new cropland. Societal impact uncertain - impact could be positive but could negatively affect traditional practices.

3 Improves soil fertility may not increase yield so societal and economic impacts uncertain.

4 All efficiency improvements are positive for sustainability goals and should yield economic benefits even if costs of irrigation are borne by the farmer.

5 Improved yields would mean better economic returns and less land required for new cropland. Societal impacts likely to benign or positive as no large-scale change to traditional practices.

6 Improve soil fertility but less land available for production; potential negative impact on economic returns.

7 Likely environmental benefits, less travel required for fuelwood; positive societal benefits; economic impact uncertain.

8 Improved production would mean better economic returns and less land required for grazing; lower degradation. Societal effects likely to be positive.

9 Organic soil restoration has a host of biodiversity/environmental co-benefits but opportunity cost of crop production lost from this land; economic impact depends upon whether farmers receive payment for the GHG emission reduction.

10 Restoration of degraded lands will provide higher yields and economic returns, less new cropland and provide societal benefits via production stability.

11 Likely environmental benefits though some negative impacts possible (e.g., water pollution) but, depending on the bio-solid system implemented, could increase costs.

12 Bio-energy crops could yield environmental co-benefits or could lead to loss of bio-diversity (depending on the land use they replace). Economic impact uncertain. Social benefits could arise from diversified income stream.

13 Negative/uncertain societal impacts as these practices may not be acceptable due to prevailing cultural practices especially in developing countries. Could improve production and economic returns.

14 Negative/uncertain societal impacts as these practices may not be acceptable due to prevailing cultural practices especially in developing countries. No data (n/d) on economic or environmental impacts.

15 Uncertain societal impacts. No data (n/d) on economic or environmental impacts.

Large-scale production of modern bioenergy crops, partly for export, could generate income and employment for rural regions of world. Nevertheless, these benefits will not necessarily flow to the rural populations that need them most. The net impacts for a region as a whole, including possible changes and improvements in agricultural production methods should be considered when developing biomass and bioenergy production capacity. Although experience around the globe (e.g., Brazil, India biofuels) shows that major socioeconomic benefits can be achieved, new bioenergy production schemes could benefit from the involvement of the regional stakeholders, particularly the farmers. Experience with such schemes needs to be built around the globe.