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

8.9 Technology research, development, deployment, diffusion and transfer

There is much scope for technological developments to reduce GHG emissions in the agricultural sector. For example, increases in crop yields and animal productivity will reduce emissions per unit of production. Such increases in crop and animal productivity will be implemented through improved management and husbandry techniques, such as better management, genetically modified crops, improved cultivars, fertilizer recommendation systems, precision agriculture, improved animal breeds, improved animal nutrition, dietary additives and growth promoters, improved animal fertility, bio-energy crops, anaerobic slurry digestion and methane capture systems. All of these depend to some extent on technological developments. Although technological improvement may have very significant effects, transfer of these technologies is a key requirement for these mitigations to be realized. For example, the efficiency of N use has improved over the last two decades in developed countries, but continues to decline in many developing countries due to barriers to technology transfer (International Fertilizer Industry Association, 2007). Based on technology change scenarios developed by Ewert et al. (2005), and derived from extrapolation of current trends in FAO data, Smith et al. (2005b) showed that technological improvements could potentially counteract the negative impacts of climate change on cropland and grassland soil carbon stocks in Europe. This and other work (Rounsevell et al., 2006) suggest that technological improvement will be a key factor in GHG mitigation in the future.

In most instances, the cost of employing mitigation strategies will not alter radically in the medium term. There will be some shifts in costs due to changes in prices of agricultural products and inputs, but these are unlikely to be of significant magnitude. Likewise, the potential of most options for CO2 reduction is unlikely to change greatly. There are some exceptions which fall into two categories: (i) options where the practice or technology is not new, but where the emission reduction potential has not been adequately quantified, such as improved nutrient utilization; and (ii) options where technologies are still being refined such as probiotics in animal diets, or nitrification inhibitors.

Many of the mitigation strategies outlined for agriculture employ existing technology (e.g., crop management, livestock management). With such strategies, the main issue is technology transfer, diffusion, and deployment. Other strategies involve new use of existing technologies. For example, oils have been used in animal diets for many years to increase dietary energy content, but their role as a methane suppressant is relatively new, and the parameters of the technology in terms of scope for methane reduction are only now being defined. Other strategies still require further research to allow viable systems to operate (e.g., bio-energy crops). Finally, many novel mitigation strategies are presently being refined, such as the use of probiotics, novel plant extracts, and the development of vaccines. Thus, there is still a major role for research and development in this area.

Differences between regions can arise due to the state of development of the agricultural industry, the resources available and legislation. For example, the scope to use specific agents and dietary additives in ruminants is much greater in developed than in the developing regions because of cost, opportunity (e.g., it is easier to administer products to animals in confined systems than in free ranging or nomadic systems), and availability of the technology (US-EPA, 2006a). Furthermore, certain technologies are not allowed in some regions, for example, ionophores are banned from use in animal feeding in the EU, and genetically modified crops are not approved for use in some countries.