Agroecology can mitigate climate change
A new study published today (Tuesday 16 April) has shown that agroecological farming, such as organic, can make a major contribution towards keeping global warming below 2°C.
The report from French think-tank IDDRI looks at how climate mitigation strategies often rely on intensifying food production, proposing to increase yields to free up land for afforestation and bioenergy.
But the report warns that this requires high use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, which risks damaging soil health and biodiversity, while potentially undermining the capacity of European farming to adapt to climate change.
It demonstrates that there is a viable alternative - an agroecological approach using environmentally friendly methods first, and inputs like pesticides as a last resort – with meat consumption halved and imports of animal feed eliminated.
The report sets out how agroecological farming can make a huge contribution towards keeping global warming below 2°C with a 47% reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, alongside benefits for biodiversity, conservation and human health.
It follows IDDRI’s Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe study, published in the UK earlier this year, which concluded sustainable farming is capable of feeding a growing European population.
Rob Percival, head of policy for food and health at the Soil Association, said:
“Agroecological farming, including organic, offers our best hope of responding to climate change.
“We urgently need to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, but we must also protect soil health, nurture biodiversity, and build resilience into agricultural systems. Pesticide-hungry ‘intensification’ offers a false solution.
“The UK Government must prioritise agroecology within the Agriculture Bill and ensure farmers are adequately supported to transition to more climate resilient systems. As the climate protests this week are highlighting, we’re running out of time.”
Key points from this week’s report include:
• Agroecological farming, such as organic, can make a major contribution towards tackling climate change in Europe.
• A transition to agroecological farming could lower European agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 47% and remove 380,000 tonnes of pesticides per year from European farming.
• Most climate mitigation scenarios rely on the intensification of food production, increasing crop yields to free up land for afforestation and bioenergy – but these, the study warns, are based on untested assumptions about the scope to intensify food production and are accompanied by significant downsides such as high use of pesticides and synthetic fertilisers that potentially harm soils and insects, including pollinators.
• The study questions “the realism and desirability” of intensification, warning that a reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilisers risks damaging soil health and biodiversity, while potentially undermining the capacity of European farming to adapt to climate change.
• A transition to agroecology would need to be complemented by dietary changes that are already anticipated on health and environmental grounds, including a shift towards more plant-based proteins and roughly 50% less meat.
This is the second study from IDDRI to be published this year. The Soil Association collaborated with IDDRI in February to launch an English translation of ‘Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe’, demonstrating that agroecology can feed a growing European population a healthy and sustainable diet.
The new study shows that agroecology is coherent with efforts needed to keep global warming below 2°C. It suggests that intensifying food production, with its potentially harmful inputs, is not the best route to 'carbon neutrality' in the land use sector and that tackling issues of food waste and shifting to more sustainable and healthy diets remain central to tackle climate change.