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Emissions due to agriculture

  

2020 UPDATE HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 2018, global emissions due to agriculture were 9.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents (CO2eq)
  • Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from crop and livestock activities contributed 5.3 billion tonnes CO2eq in 2018, a 14 percent growth since 2000
  • Farm-gate emissions were dominated by livestock production processes such as enteric fermentation and manure deposition on pastures, together generating 3 billion tonnes CO2eq in 2018.
  • Land use and land use change emissions were 4 billion tonnes CO2eq in 2018, caused mainly by deforestation (2.9 billion) and drainage and burning of organic soils (1 billion). They decreased globally by 20 percent since 2000.
  • While emissions from deforestation decreased, those from drainage and fires of organic soils increased nearly 35 percent since 2000
  • In Africa, farm-gate and land related emissions both increased over the entire 2000-2018 period.

 

BACKGROUND

Agriculture as a sector is responsible for non-CO2 emissions generated within the farm gate by crops and livestock activities, as well as for CO2 emissions caused by the conversion of natural ecosystems, mostly forest land and natural peatlands, to agricultural land use. 

The FAOSTAT Emissions database provides a comprehensive picture of methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and removals from agriculture production (1961-2018) and associated land use activities (1990-2019), providing information at country, regional and global level. It documents the main trends and impacts of food and agriculture on atmospheric GHG concentrations. Data are based on estimates produced over the period 1961-2018, using as input crop and livestock data submitted by countries to FAO and applying the guidelines for national GHG inventories of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2006) for emission estimates. This analytical brief focuses on overall trends for the period 2000-2018. Emissions from forest biomass fires and burning of organic soils in the humid tropics are included in these estimates. More in-depth analysis on emissions and removals for livestock, forests, and the degradation of organic soils are discussed elsewhere.

GLOBAL

In 2018, world total agriculture and related land use emissions reached 9.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2 eq). Crop and livestock activities within the farm gate generated more than half of this total (5.3 Gt CO2 eq), with land use and land use change activities responsible for nearly 4 Gt CO2 eq. These components were respectively 4.6 and 5.0 Gt CO2 eq in the year 2000. During the 2000s, emissions from within the farm gate and those from land use both increased, and then trends in these two components began diverging. Emissions from crops and livestock activities kept growing over the entire 2000-2018 period and were 14 percent larger in 2018 than in 2000. Conversely emissions from land use and land use change decreased over the study period, consistently with observed decreases in deforestation. As a result, the combined farm gate and land emissions due to agriculture were about 4 percent lower in 2018 than in 2000. In 2018, agriculture and related land use emissions accounted for 17 percent of global GHG emissions from all sectors, down from the 24 percent in the 2000s. In addition to the noted slight decrease in absolute emissions, smaller shares in 2018 were also the result of emissions from other economic sectors growing at relatively faster rates during 2000–2018 (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Yearly emissions from agriculture activities (crops and livestock) and related land use (in million tonnes of CO2eq per year) and annual ratio (in percent) of the agricultural to global GHG emissions from all sectors, 2000–2018

 

     

Emissions from crop and livestock 

Crops and livestock, non-CO2 emissions Agricultural activities from crops and livestock production release significant amounts of non-CO2 emissions such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), both powerful greenhouse gases, totaling 5.3 Gt CO2eq in 2018, with livestock production contributing two-thirds of this total (Fig. 2). In particular, in 2018 CH4 emissions from enteric fermentation in digestive systems of ruminant livestock continued to be the single largest component of farm-gate emissions (2.1 Gt CO2eq).

N2O emissions from livestock manure left on pastures by grazing animals and manure applications to cropland contributed an additional 1 Gt CO2eq in 2018. Furthermore, N2O emissions from synthetic fertilizers contributed 13 percent to the total (0.7 Gt CO2eq) and CH4 emissions from rice cultivation another 10 percent (0.5 Gt CO2eq).

The relative contribution of each process in crop and livestock production discussed above did not vary significantly during the past two decades. It could be noted that N2O emissions from synthetic fertilizers and crop residues incorporation had the largest relative growth over the study period, being more than 35 percent higher in 2018. This was consistent with growing intensification of crop production globally and the related increase in chemical fertilizers inputs worldwide.

The growth in livestock numbers drove the increase in the emissions from manure and from enteric fermentation (i.e., 20 and 13 percent in 2018 compared to 2000, respectively). Finally, emissions from rice cultivation, manure management systems and from drained organic soils increased by about 7 percent over the period 2000–2018.

The data showed a decline in emissions from prescribed fires on grasslands and savannahs, in line with previous findings in recent literature of an overall decline of fire rates in Africa between 2001-2016 (e.g., Wei et al., 2020). These studies attributed these trends to cropland expansion in northern sub-Saharan Africa at the cost of traditional, fire-managed rangelands.

Figure 2. Contribution of crops and livestock activities to total non-CO2 emissions from agriculture in 2018 (5.3 Gt CO2eq)

 

 

 

Figure 3. Changes (in percent) in non-CO2 emissions from crops and livestock activities, 2000–2018

 

Agricultural land use and land use change

In 2018, world-total land use and land use change emissions related to agriculture were nearly 4 Gt CO2 eq. Deforestation, assumed herein as fully driven by agriculture, represented nearly three fourths of these global emissions. Drainage and burning of organic soils were responsible for the remaining quarter (Fig. 4).It should be acknowledged that while agriculture is the largest driver of deforestation globally, important non-agricultural drivers may exist at regional and local level, so that our overall global total is likely an overestimate. 

In 2018, world total emissions from agricultural land use and land use change were about 3.9 Gt CO2 eq, or 21 percent less than in 2000 (5 Gt CO2 eq). This decline was primarily due to significant declines in deforestation emissions, especially since 2010 (Fig. 5). In 2018, world total emissions from deforestation were 2.9 Gt CO2eq, down from 4.3 Gt CO2eq in 2000. Conversely, emissions from drainage and burning of peatlands were about 1 Gt CO2eq in 2018, nearly 35 percent higher than in 2000. Finally, emissions from fires in humid tropical forests, though small in absolute terms, kept growing during the twenty-year period of this analysis. They reached 0.2 Gt CO2eq in 2018, or 10 percent higher than in 2000.

Figure 4. Contribution of activities to total agricultural land use and land use change emissions in 2018 (3.9 Gt CO2eq)

 

 

 

Figure 5. Changes (in percent) in emissions from the components of agricultural land use, 2000–2018

   

REGIONAL

Regional trends in emissions due to agriculture (crop and livestock activities and related land use and land use change) were significantly different from global trends discussed above (Fig. 6). In Africa, emissions due to agriculture exhibited an upward trend during the 2000-2018 period. They reached 2.2 Gt CO2eq in 2018, or 24 percent of world total agricultural emissions, up from 18 percent in 2000. North America, which contributed on average 6 percent to the world total agriculture emissions, showed a decline in emissions in the first decade of 2000s, followed by a similar increase since 2010. Agriculture emissions decreased in South America by 10 percent in the period 2000–2010, and by an additional 36 percent up to 2018, to reach 1.9 Gt CO2eq in 2018. Sharp decreases in emissions from deforestation were the main driver of these trends. In Asia, similarly to North America, the first decade of 2000s showed a decrease in emissions followed by an increase since 2010. In 2018, emissions due to agriculture in Asia were 3.3 Gt CO2eq, substantially unchanged from their levels in 2000. Europe (including the Russian Federation) accounted for approximately one tenth of global emissions due to agriculture. Emissions declined during 2000–2010 and increased in the following decade, though such increase was less pronounced than observed in other regions. In 2018, total agricultural emissions in Europe were 0.8 CO2eq, 8 percent less than in 2000. Finally, agriculture and related land use emissions decreased steadily in Oceania during the two decades of this analysis, exhibiting the largest proportional reduction. In 2018, total agricultural emissions in this region were 0.2 Gt CO2eq, roughly 30 percent less than in 2000.

Farm gate production and land use contributed differently to the emissions due to agriculture in the regions analyzed (Fig. 7). In 2018, crops and livestock production contributed two-thirds or more in North America (66 percent), Asia (69 percent), Europe (73 percent) and Oceania (80 percent). Conversely, land use and land use change processes contributed nearly 60% of the total due to agriculture in Africa and South America.

Figure 6. Regional and global agriculture and related land use emissions (in 2000, 2010 and 2018)

 

 

 

Figure 7. Regional contribution of crops and livestock and agricultural land use emissions, 2018

   

COUNTRY

The list of top ten emitters from agricultural production reflects countries with large agricultural area (Fig. 7, left panel). In 2018, India and China contributed about 650 Mt CO2eq annual emissions each. Brazil and the United States of America (USA) followed with 450 and 360 Mt CO2eq, respectively. Indonesia was the fifth largest emitter, with nearly 200 Mt CO2eq. A different set of countries was highlighted instead when looking at top ten emitters from land sue and land use change processes linked to agriculture. In 2018, Indonesia was the first country by land use emissions related to agriculture, with nearly 730 Mt CO2eq emitted largely through peatland degradation processes (drainage and fires), largely associated with the cultivation of oil palm. Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo followed, with about 650 Mt CO2eq and 620 Mt CO2eq respectively, largely related to deforestation (Fig. 8, right panel).

Finally, when ranking countries in terms of total emissions due to agriculture (production and related land use processes), Brazil, Indonesia and India were the top three emitters, contributing nearly 30 percent to global agriculture emissions (Fig. 9). In Brazil, nearly three fifths of emissions were due to deforestation, although crops and livestock production was an important contributor. In Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second and third largest emitters respectively, land use processes related to agriculture were even more dominant, representing over four-fifths of emissions due to agriculture. Conversely, crop and livestock production were by far the dominant component of emissions due to agriculture in India and China.

Figure 8. Top ten countries by non-CO2 emissions from crop and livestock activities within the farm gate (left) and top ten countries by CO2 emissions from agriculture-related land use (right), in 2018

 

 

 

Figure 9. Top ten countries by total agriculture emissions and relative role of crops and livestock activities and agricultural land use, in 2018

   

ON-FARM ENERGY USE

The 2020 update of the FAOSTAT emissions database included new estimates of GHG emissions from on-farm energy use, including energy used in fisheries.

In 2018, emissions from energy consumed in agriculture were 0.9 Gt CO2eq, having increased by 23 percent since 2000.  In 2018, energy supplied by electricity contributed nearly half of the total on-farm energy emissions, with gas and diesel oil contributing an additional one-third (Fig. 10). The relative contribution of these two sources was the opposite in 2000, showing the fast growth of electricity as the dominant energy provider on farms over the study period.

Figure 10. World total trends in emissions from on-farm energy use, by energy carrier, 2000-2018

   

EXPLANATORY NOTES

The FAOSTAT emissions database is composed of several data domains covering the IPCC categories of the IPCC Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector of the national GHG inventory. Energy use in agriculture is additionally included as relevant to emissions from agriculture as an economic production sector under the ISIC A statistical classification, though recognizing that, in terms of IPCC, they are instead part of the Energy sector of the national GHG inventory.

FAO emissions estimates are available over the period 1961 – 2018 for agriculture production processes from crop and livestock activities. Land use emissions and removals are generally available only for the period 1990-2019. Forest land data are collected from FAO Forest Resources Assessments (FRA) in five-year cycles. Other land use datasets are based geospatial information, for instance drained organic soils, savannah and forest fires, which are available for the period 1990–2019.

Sources of non-CO2 emissions from agricultural activities—i.e. methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions—are summarized in Emissions-Agriculture Total. The activity data underlying the emissions in this aggregate are based on country data officially reported to FAO. For instance, livestock numbers, harvested area, fertilizers use in agriculture. Projections to 2030 and 2050 are also available. They are computed with respect to the 2005–2007 baseline, following Alexandratos and Bruinsma (2012).

The CO2 emissions associated with land use and land use change are summarized in Emissions–Land Use Total. Geospatial data complement existing national statistics, for instance on management fires, burning biomass and organic soils drainage and fire. For emissions from burning of organic soils, in line with existing literature, only FAOSTAT country-level emissions estimates for southeastern Asia countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Brunei Darussalam) were considered anthropogenic. They contributed as a result to country, regional and world total land use emissions. Conversely, emissions estimates for all other countries provided in FAOSTAT were not considered anthropogenic, to reflect lack of evidence to this end in existing literature, and were not included in the estimation of country, regional and world totals land use emissions.

A comprehensive methodological note is available for each dataset of the emissions database. The detailed composition of the datasets under Agriculture Total (1) and Land Use Total (2) and corresponding data availability are as follows:   

Agriculture Total (1)

(CH4 and N2O emissions) per year

1961–2018; 2030; 2050

Land Use Total (2)

(CO2 emissions / removals)

1990–2019 per year

Enteric Fermentation

Forest Land – Net forest conversion 1990–2020

Manure Management

 

Rice Cultivation

 

Synthetic Fertilizers

 

Manure applied to Soils

 

Manure left on Pastures

 

Crop Residues

 

Burning Crop Residues

 

based on geospatial data and processing (1990–2019) CH4, N2O and CO2 emissions per year

Cultivation of Organic soils (1); Cropland (2); Grassland (2); Burning–Savanna (1); Burning Biomass / Humid tropical forest (2); Burning Biomass / Organic soils (2);

 Finally, data on Energy Use are available for the period 1970–2018

 

REFERENCES

IPCC 1997. Revised 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, OECD, Paris. Available at: http://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/gl/invs1.html 

IPCC 2000. Good practice guidance and uncertainty management in national greenhouse gas inventories. In: J. Penman et al. (Eds.), IPCC National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme, Technical Support Unit, Hayama, Japan. Available at: http://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/gp/english/gpgaum_en.html 

IPCC 2002. Background Papers, IPCC Expert Meetings on Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. IPCC-NGGIP, p.399-417. Available at: http://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/gp/gpg-bgp.html

IPCC 2006. 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Prepared by the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme, Eggleston H.S., Buendia L., Miwa K., Ngara T. and Tanabe K. (Eds), IGES, Hayama, Japan. Available at: http://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/2006gl/index.html

Alexandratos, N. and Bruinsma J. 2012. World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision. ESA Working paper No. 12-03. Rome, FAO. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/ap106e/ap106e.pdf  

Tubiello, F.N. 2019. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Due to Agriculture. In: Ferranti, P., Berry, E.M., Anderson, J.R. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Food Security and Sustainability, vol. 1, pp. 196–205. Elsevier. ISBN: 9780128126875

Conchedda, G., Tubiello, F.N., 2020. Drainage of organic soils and GHG emissions: Validation with country data. Earth System Science Data Discussions 2020, 1–47. https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-2020-202

Prosperi, P., Bloise, M., Tubiello, F.N., Conchedda, G., Rossi, S., Boschetti, L., Salvatore, M., Bernoux, M., 2020. New estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from biomass burning and peat fires using MODIS Collection 6 burned areas. Climatic Change 1–18.

Tubiello, F.N., Pekkarinen, A., Marklund, L., Wanner, N., Conchedda, G., Federici, S., Rossi, S., Grassi, G., 2020. Carbon Emissions and Removals by Forests: New Estimates 1990–2020. Earth System Science Data Discussions 2020, 1–21. https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-2020-203

Rosenzweig, C., Mbow, C., Barioni, L.G., Benton, T.G., Herrero, M., Krishnapillai, M., Liwenga, E.T., Pradhan, P., Rivera-Ferre, M.G., Sapkota, T., others, 2020. Climate change responses benefit from a global food system approach. Nature Food 1, 94–97.

Wei, F., Wang, S., Fu, B., Brandt, M., Pan, N., Wang, C., Fensholt, R., 2020. Nonlinear dynamics of fires in Africa over recent decades controlled by precipitation. Global Change Biology.

             

This analytical brief was prepared by Giulia Conchedda and Francesco Nicola Tubiello, with contribution by Xueyao Pan for the section on energy use.

Suggested citation: FAO. 2020. Emissions due to agriculture. Global, regional and country trends 2000–2018. FAOSTAT Analytical Brief Series


Cover photo: © Francesco N Tubiello