Why Does Agriculture Emit So Much Greenhouse Gases?

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“Worldwatch Institute. Vision for a Sustainable World. Agriculture is the 3rd largest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions by sector, following the burning of fossil fuels for power and heat, and transportation.”


Note from author: According to research, agriculture is the 2nd (or, 3rd) largest greenhouse gas emitter of all industries. This may be a surprise to many who are not aware of how and why agricultural production releases e.g. so much carbon dioxide. The main causes to agriculture releasing so much greenhouse gas emissions include:

  • the release of nitrous oxide from different farming techniques
  • fertilizer manufacture
  • refrigeration
  • post-production: storage and transport

(Vermeulen, S. J.Campbell, B. M. & Ingram, J. S. I. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 37195222(2012).).

Furthermore, according to FAO: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use, there is a continuing growth in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, with Asia being the largest emitter (44%), followed by the Americas (25%), Africa (15%), Europe (12%) and Oceania (4%). Livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed almost 2/3 of total emissions:

  • enteric fermentation (40%)
  • manure left on pasture (16%)
  • synthetic fertilizers (10%)
  • paddy rice (10%)
  • manure management (7%)
  • burning of savannahs (5%)

(FAO. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use).

Simply explained, animal farming contributes to much higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions compared to e.g. crops. Not only because agriculture first produces crops in order to feed animals. The longer the food chain, including storage and transportation, the higher the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why FAO in its recently updated strategy urges to sustainable food production, and a reason for choosing as many local products as possible, including consumption according to seasonal variations.
The following video material, Life Cycle Assessment and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Animal Agriculture, published by Livestock & Poultry Environmental Learning Center, explains how this works:
Connect with me on Twitter @annemariayritys – for climate-related posts only @GCCThinkActTank & to receive my newsletter delivered personally to you, subscribe to Leading With Passion



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