Climate Change

Boosting mitigation through sustainable agrifood systems: part of the solution to climate change


Rome – Described as “the most highly anticipated piece of information on the subject of climate change mitigation”, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented its latest report “Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change today at a virtual press conference.

The report looks into the alarmingly slow progress made in reducing and removing global emissions. It presents an expanding range of strategies to reduce emissions including advanced technological approaches, alongside barriers such as financing and unsustainable food production.

“As the global community prepares to gather at COP27 in Egypt, this report is timely. It provides fresh evidence for international cooperation, community and individual efforts in the agrifood sector to tackle the climate crisis”, said Zitouni Ould-Dada, Deputy Director of the FAO Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment.

This is the third of three contributions to the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report issued over the past eight months. The previous two reports looked at the causes, impacts and adaptation to climate change. All the reports are part of a regular review of the climate science dating back to 1990.

Agrifood systems – culprit or victim?

FAO plays an important role in IPCC Assessment Reports, by contributing to the knowledge base needed for the mitigation of emissions from agrifood systems”, said Francesco Tubiello, FAO Senior Statistician who contributed to the report with analysis of emissions data on agriculture and agrifood systems based on FAOSTAT statistics.  

The FAO data in chapters 2, 7 and 12 of the report suggest that agrifood systems represent one third of total emissions originating from human activity. The data also shows that while land continues to offer an important option for land-based carbon sequestration, supply chains beyond the farm gate, including retail, household consumption and waste disposal, are becoming in many countries the largest emissions component from food.

There is the possibility to increase the climate change mitigation in the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors but the report suggests that institutional and financial support has been insufficient.  

“This latest IPCC report reveals that there are cost constraints when it comes to the mitigation of greenhouse gases coming from agrifood sectors, like methane and nitrous oxide. This is reflected in our 2021 analysis ‘Climate finance in the agriculture and land use sector’”, said Martial Bernoux, FAO Senior Natural Resources Officer.

The data shows that between 2000 and 2018 the share of global climate finance in the agriculture and land use sector decreased, passing from an average of 45 percent to a steady 24 percent since 2013.

The IPCC report also reveals that barriers in specific regions are hampering efforts to implement mitigation strategies but that nationally specific policies have been effective in ensuring measures to mitigate emissions.  

The recently approved NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions) Facility project ‘Low Carbon Olive Value Chain Development in Palestine’, being implemented by FAO and the Palestinian Agriculture Disaster Risk Reduction and Insurance Fund, as well as other FAO projects at country level are testimony to this.

International cooperation

International cooperation is described in the IPCC report as critical in achieving ambitious climate change mitigation goals and in technology development and transfer accompanied by capacity building and finance. This can accelerate the global diffusion of mitigation technologies, practices and policies which are critical to securing a low-carbon and just transition.

‘’FAO plays a crucial role in providing capacity development and technical know-how to developing countries to assist them in their pursuit of sustainable development. Through support in accessing climate finance, FAO is helping countries in a very concrete manner’’, explained Inge Jonckheere, FAO Forestry Officer and one of the Lead Authors of the report.

FAO’s work on climate change mitigation

The main mitigation options used by FAO in the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sectors are the reduction and prevention of emissions by restoration, carbon sequestration — removing carbon and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through biological processes like planting trees and maintaining forests and peatlands and reducing emissions using biological products in the place of fossil fuels. Climate action in agrifood systems usually combines mitigation with adaptation measures.

Combined approaches as seen in a FAO pilot project in India are one example of the type of short-term actions referred to in the report. Rice cultivation in Punjab stretches across millions of hectares and the leftover rice straw is burnt emitting high levels of methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

Working closely with Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, FAO tested a system in which left over crop residues can be converted into clean energy in the form of liquid biofuels. This reduces dependence on other carbon sources and has a number of co-benefits; it increases farmers’ income, reduces health hazards caused by excessive burning and improves soil quality.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are expected to reduce emissions and meet national climate targets, FAO supports countries through the Global capacity-building towards enhanced transparency in the AFOLU sector (CBIT-AFOLU) project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, to report on their GHG emissions and progress made in implementing and achieving their national climate commitments.

Forests – vital carbon sinks 

Deforestation and other land-use activities account for 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The report highlights that more can be done to halt deforestation and restore degraded land. FAO regards forests and landscapes as increasingly important in the transformation of agrifood systems and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Restoring forests and natural ecosystems so that they can absorb more carbon dioxide would help reduce emissions quickly and be cost effective.

“Forest restoration alone has the potential to remove 13 to 26 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by 2030. FAO believes that the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 will help accelerate forest and landscape restoration”, said Eduardo Mansur, Director of the FAO Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment.



Find out more:

E-learning: FAO e-learning courses on climate change mitigation
Publication: Climate finance in the agriculture and land use sector between 2000-2019 - Special update