Climate change is caused by burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution. The increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is causing the planet to heat up.
But climate change is not only caused by carbon dioxide. Other greenhouse gasses (GHG), like methane and nitrous oxide, are emitted through other human activities such as farming and ploughing practices, manufacturing cement and steel, degradation of our forests and ecosystems, cattle and rice farming, from landfills, and our use of refrigerants and fertilisers. These GHG not only traps heat but is also polluting our environment.
According to the Project Drawdown primer report, around 59% of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide stay in the atmosphere. In comparison, roughly 41% of emissions get absorbed by the land and ocean.
Project drawdown focuses on the massive potential that our natural sinks like agricultural lands, grazing fields, oceans, wetlands, and forests absorb enough GHG to the point where atmospheric levels begin to drop. Hence the drawdown is a critical turning point that could stop climate change.
Food, agriculture, and land use account for almost a quarter of total global emissions. But by changing farming, tilling, food production, and tilling practices and systems presents a significant opportunity to capture carbon and other GHG in the atmosphere, thus reversing climate change.
According to the Drawdown Primer, mitigating climate change is a two-pronged approach: reducing GHG emissions from agriculture and land-use practices while enhancing the sinks’ capacity to sequester carbon dioxide and other GHG from the atmosphere.
Croplands and pasturelands cover between 35% to 40% of the earth’s ice-free area, and we should use these as GHG sinks.
How do carbon and GHG sink work?
Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by getting absorbed through photosynthesis. Later CO2 is stored in vegetations like grass and trees. Carbon dioxide also seeps into the plants’ root and gets stored as organic matter in the soil.
Through this process, carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the ground and biomass for many years up to several centuries. But ultimately, the carbon that is locked up in the biomass and soil can still be released through decomposition and microbial respiration.
Nature is already doing this process without our help, but what if we help nature enhance or maximise its capacity to sequester carbon so that we could remove more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
According to the report, there are many ways to do this, and one of them is through “regenerative agriculture”, – which refers to a change in farming and land-use practices to create new carbon sinks.
The report describes farming practices that sequester carbon that includes “regenerative agriculture” practice, an annual cropping technique that allows croplands to accumulate biomass, increase plant cover, and rebuild the soil.
According to the report, regenerative agriculture “aims to go beyond maintaining the landscape’s ecological health and soil fertility to actively restoring and improving soil fertility and ecosystem health. Such farming practices start accumulating significant amounts of organic matter, rebuilding the soil, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. On croplands, these practices include no-till cultivation (which, unfortunately, is often linked to heavy herbicide application), cover cropping, compost application, and other practices from the organic and sustainable agriculture pantheon.”
Other farming practices mention in the report includes activities like restoring forest and planting large areas of trees, perennialise agriculture through increased adoption of agroforestry systems and perennial crops, and managing grazing lands with “regenerative agriculture” techniques, so they accumulate soil carbon.
The report also discusses in detail important related topics on carbon that includes: where carbon is stored in a working landscape, and the process of soil carbon accumulation, the detailed breakdown of GHG from agriculture, the capacity of soil to act as methane sinks, how much carbon can agriculture lands sequester and for how long, and other topics.
In conclusion, the report emphasised that solving the climate crisis involves two critical solutions – reducing emissions from the food, agriculture, land use (FALU) sector, and enhancing agricultural and farming lands’ carbon sequestration capacity.
It is also crucial that carbon sinks are managed well into the future to avoid releasing sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere. Additionally, the report endorses a portfolio of climate solutions, including reducing food waste, changing diets, creating healthier landscapes, waterways highlighting that every climate adaptation and mitigation approach is worth pursuing.
To read the entire report, click the link below:
Farming Our Way Out of The Climate Crises. Changing our Land Use, Agricultural Practices, and Food System Offers Numerous Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Sequester Atmospheric Carbon, and Help Address Climate Change.
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Farming Our Way Out of The Climate Crises. Changing our Land Use, Agricultural Practices, and Food System Offers Numerous Opportunities to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Sequester Atmospheric Carbon, and Help Address Climate Change. (2020 December). Project Drawdown. Retrieved from https://drawdown.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/DrawdownPrimer_FoodAgLandUse_Dec2020_01c.pdf