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The Contribution of Agriculture to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

2020 FAOSTAT Emissions shares

Rome, February 18 2020. FAO releases today new estimates of the percentage contribution of agriculture to total GHG emissions. The new FAOSTAT Emissions shares statistics are available at country, regional and global level, over the time series 1990-2017, for carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), and in carbon-dioxide equivalents (CO2eq) . The FAO estimates include information on emissions from non-agriculture sectors from the PRIMAP database. They are a significant component of new food systems emissions estimates published today in Nature Food (Rosenzweig et al., 2020). Agriculture is highly at risk from climate change, requiring urgent adaptation response in coming years to meet global food supply. At the same time, agriculture emits significant amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere, so that mitigation in agriculture features prominently in many country climate change response plans. The largest contributors from agriculture are non-CO2 emissions from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate and carbon losses from land use–mainly due to deforestation and peatland degradation. Detailed information on the emissions sub-components are available elsewhere, in the FAOSTAT emissions agriculture and land use domains. 

Highlights of FAOSTAT Emissions Shares


•    In 2017, world total GHG emissions from all economic sectors totaled 51 billion tonnes CO2eq (Gt CO2eq yr-1), and as much as 56 Gt CO2eq yr-1 including emissions from land use. Emissions from agriculture were 11.1 Gt CO2eq yr-1, composed of 6.1 Gt CO2eq yr-1 from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate and 5.0 Gt CO2eq yr-1 from agricultural land use, largely deforestation and peatland degradation;

•    In 2017, the percentage contribution of agriculture to world CO2eq emissions from all human activities was 20%. This included a contribution of 11% from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate, and an additional 9% from related land use (Fig. 1). The largest contributor to world total CO2eq emissions was the energy sector, which emitted two-thirds of the total, due to the burning of fossil fuels for power and energy generation. Industrial processes were instead responsible for 8% of the total;

•    The contribution of agriculture is decreasing over time. It was 29% on average in the 1990’s (1990–1999); 25% in the 2000’s (2000–2009); and 20% in the current decade (2010–2017). This decrease is due to two main trends: i) emissions increases from 1990 to 2017 were greater in the energy sector (from 25 to 37 Gt CO2eq) than for the crop and livestock sectors (from 5.2 to 6.1 Gt CO2eq); and  ii) emissions from agricultural land use decreased substantially during the same period 1990-2017, from 6.9 to 5.0 Gt CO2eq;

•    The contribution of agriculture of CH4 and N2O emissions, expressed in these single gases, was much larger than computed in CO2eq units. It furthermore stemmed almost exclusively from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate. In 2017, agriculture accounted for 42% of total CH4 and 75% of total N2O emissions. Such contribution did not change significantly over time. In the 1990s, it was 47% and 74% for CH4 and N2O, respectively (Fig. 2);

•    Agriculture emissions are a major component of food-systems emissions, which move beyond farmer’s fields and related land use activities to include processes in food manufacturing, refrigeration and transport, food supply chains, retail processes, food consumption and disposal of food waste. Food systems were estimated at 21-37% of world total annual CO2eq emissions for 2007–2016 (Rosenzweig et al., 2020), whereas FAOSTAT estimates for the same period a share of 21% from agriculture alone.


    •    In 2017, the relative contribution of agriculture to regional total CO2eq emissions from all human activities was the largest in Africa and Latin America, with a share of about 60% (Tab. 1); the share in Asia was about 30%, while it was near 10% --half of the world’s average—in Asia, Europe and North America;

    •    The large shares in Africa and Latin America were dominated by land use emissions, which in these two regions were larger than those from crop and livestock activities. The latter were nonetheless also significant in Africa and Latin America, as well as in Oceania (above 20%). In Asia, Europe and North America, the contribution of emissions from crop and livestock activities were between 6%-9% and twice those from land use;

    •    Of the top two regional contributors in 2017, shares of agriculture since the 1990s decreased only slightly Africa, i.e., from 63% to 58% in the current decade; and more markedly in Latin America, from 72% in the 1990s to 57% in the current decade. Furthermore, they decreased strongly in Asia, from 29% in the 1990s to 14% in the current decade as increased the shares from the non-agricultural sectors.


    •    In 2017, the contribution of agriculture to national total CO2eq emissions was above 90% in six countries, including Chad, Central African Republic, Guyana, Paraguay, South Sudan and Zambia;

    •    In 2017, emissions from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate were above 50% of national total CO2eq emissions in ten countries, including Eritrea (57%), Mauritania (61%); Central African Republic (64%); Uruguay (68%) and Niger (76%).

    [1] Using a global warming potential (GWP), converting methane and nitrous oxide emissions into the equivalent amount of carbon-dioxide emissions having the same climate warming effect. FAOSTAT disseminates emissions in single gases as well as in CO2eq for three different GWPs: SAR, AR4 and AR5.




    Figure 1. Agriculture shares of regional and world total CO2eq emissions for the year 2017

    Figure 2. Agriculture shares of world total CH4, N2O and CO2eq emissions, 1990-2017

    Explanatory Notes

    The FAOSTAT Emissions shares domain disseminates data on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions shares of agriculture and related land use to the total emissions from all economic sectors, by gas, country and year, for the period 1990–2017. Absolute emissions are also disseminated for transparency. The economic sectors considered as emission sources are those defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the 2006 guidelines (Vol.1, ch.8): Energy, industrial processes and product use, waste, and agriculture. We additionally consider agriculture-related land use emissions, as in IPCC (2019). Emissions from agriculture are from the FAOSTAT Emissions-Agriculture domain. Agriculture-related land use emissions are from the following FAOSTAT Emissions- Land Use categories: cropland, grassland, net forest conversion, fires from burning of organic soils and humid tropical forests. Emissions from the non-agriculture and land use sectors are from the PRIMAP-hist dataset v2.1 (Gütschow et al., 2016; Gütschow et al., 2019). Emissions statistics and their shares are provided in single gas components CO2, CH4 and N2O, as well as cumulatively using CO2eq units. The latter are computed using global warming potential (GWPs) conversion factors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with results disseminated for three GWPs separately: the IPCC Second Assessment Report, GWP-SAR, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, GWP-AR4, and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, GWP-AR5. The domain ‘Emissions shares’ contains the following data categories available for download by sector, country and year: a) shares of total CO2eq emissions; b) shares of total CO2, CH4, N2O and Fluorinated gases (F-gases, including Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), SF6 and NF3 gases; c) emissions in Gg CO2eq; d) emissions in Gg of the single gases.

    Emissions and shares statistics are available for 198 countries and 45 territories over the period 1990-2017. Data are also disseminated for regional aggregates and special groups, such as the Annex I and Non-Annex I Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


    FAO, 2020. FAOSTAT Emissions shares,

    Rosenzweig et al., 2020. Climate change responses benefit from a global food system approach. Nature Food, in press.

    IPCC, 2019. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Special Report on Land and Climate Change, Summary for Policymakers. 

    Gütschow J., Jeffery L. and R. Gieseke 2019. The PRIMAP-hist national historical emissions time series v2.1 (1850-2017). GFZ Data Services. Available from: (Dataset)

    Gütschow J., Jeffery L. and R. Gieseke 2019. Paris Reality Check: PRIMAP-hist. Retrieved from Paris Reality Check: PRIMAP-hist. Available from:

    Gütschow, J.; Jeffery, L.; Gieseke, R.; Gebel, R.; Stevens, D.; Krapp, M.; Rocha, M. (2016): The PRIMAP-hist national historical emissions time series, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 8, 571-603,