It’s been 7 years since 196 countries worldwide signed the Paris Agreement and we’re still aiming at a limit temperature increase of 1,5ºC above pre-industrial levels. But how close are we to reach that goal? And what is the role of agriculture, forestry and other land uses (AFOLU) within this mission?
AFOLU sector is a source of food, fuel, textiles, feed and building materials – all necessary for human subsistence and wellbeing – while also acting as the groundwork for biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.
Given the fact that this is the second sector with most GHG emissions, with 13% to 21% of the total amount (only surpassed by energy sector), it is where some of the most impactful opportunities lie on and it is also the only sector that currently enables anthropogenic carbon sinks, thus the necessity for entities like Food4Sustainability, which accelerate the deployment of such actions through testing, investment and capacitation efforts.
It is estimated that the potential of AFOLU sector ranges from 20% to 30% of the mitigation needed globally, with short-term solutions already available at a relatively low cost. However, the pathway to those results is highly dependent on the region, i.e. on the different natural and socio-economic contexts.
For example, tropical regions should be mainly focused on the preservation of natural ecosystems whereas developed countries, Asia and developing Pacific will benefit more from carbon sequestration in agricultural land and demand-side schemes.
Deforestation rate (responsible for ~45% of AFOLU GHG emissions) has been slightly decreasing, with the general tree coverage increasing. On the other hand, CH4 and N2O keep increasing, mainly due to the intensive raising of ruminant animals (cattle, sheeps, goats) and agricultural fertilisers, respectively.
Agriculture is therefore the second largest potential of mitigation within this sector, with most relevant solutions ranging from soil carbon management and agroforestry implementation to livestock management and biochar. Food4Sustainability has become an important player in this transition, working towards sustainable intensification of food and feed systems and consequent conservation of waterways.
This is not possible without development of the appropriate measurement tools, e.g. microbiome assessment, which allows for a real-time, deep understanding of the soil conditions and what relationships between different contributors lead to such status.
Bioenergy and related activities also provide a great potential of mitigation, especially when taking into account that the associated replacement of non-renewable sources will then help decarbonize other sectors, amplifying its impact. Currently, the best options to achieve that are deployment of energy crops, agroforestry and A/R (afforestation/reforestation).
However, deficient implementation of energy crops may lead to land carbon losses and excessive biomass demand, hindering other mitigation efforts such as reduced deforestation and degradation. Once again, evaluation methods are requested, to assess real time degradation of land and air quality (even if the area covered remains stable).
Particularly for developed countries, demand-side measures have been gaining momentum, namely addressing the transition to sustainable diets (plant-based and locally sourced), overconsumption in food, fashion and building sectors which also depend on AFOLU conditions, as well as socio-economic stability of farmers and businesses that rely on these activities. Lack of governance and financial investment may cause an unbalanced transition to happen, leading to hunger, mass migration and reduced resilience to natural disasters.
From the 200USD/year to 400USD/year necessary to fund land-based carbon offsets, only 0.7USD/year has been invested, representing only 2.5% of climate mitigation funding, which is disproportional to the mitigation potential associated to these ecosystems.
Regarding climate change mitigation, agriculture faces even less investment than forestry and the greatest reductions typically are brought about by policy and regulations whose main focus is not climate-related (instead, they can come from labor-saving actions, market costs or water quality management related to human health).
Near-future policies may include subsidies and regulations pertaining to nutrient planning during food production and financial valorization of ecosystem services (defined as “benefits people obtain from ecosystems”, namely supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural) which would mean that producers would not only be paid for their products, but also for their services to the environment.
Food4Sustainability recognizes that potential, reason why we are calling producers and related businesses to join forces with regulators and consumers through education, digitalization, and innovative funding schemes, thus increasing the producers’ resilience, not only towards climate change but also future legal actions.
The efficiency and adaptability achieved with our pilot programs and partners will for sure determine the scalability of climate mitigation within the AFOLU sector. If you want to know what and how we are doing this, check our projects, and know the webinars we are conducting on this and other subjects related to our strategic agenda.