According to IPCC, do you know that AFOLU is responsible for approximately 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions include emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use.
AFOLU is an important sector when it comes to climate action. Prioritizing sustainable land use and agriculture practices not only reduces the emissions but ensures food security, protects biodiversity and builds community resilience. Sustainable land management practices like agroforestry, regenerative agriculture and reforestation have the potential to sequester significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
According to IPCC, these practices can sequester up to 6 GtCO2e per year by 2050.
Let us go deeper into what AFOLU is and what impact does agriculture have on land use and how sustainable land management practices can help in mitigating the environmental impacts.
What is AFOLU?
Agriculture, Forestry and other Land Use (AFOLU) plays an important role in food security and sustainable development. Plants take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and nitrogen from the soil during their growth and redistribute it among the above and below ground living biomass, soil organic matter and dead residues. Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere by decomposition of dead plant biomass, soil organic matter and combustion. The anthropogenic land-use activities like management of croplands, forests, wetlands and grasslands and changes in land-use like deforestation and conversion of forest lands and grasslands to croplands result in superimposition of natural fluxes. AFOLU activities result in both source and sinks of CO2 and non-CO2 emissions from livestock and rice cultivation and manure storage and biomass burning.
AFOLU while fighting against climate change also ensures that the different ecosystems receive the necessary resources. Addressing the AFOLU sector remains a primary option in reducing global warming. AFOLU supports to remain in the 1.5˚C pathway There is a need for effective management in order to achieve the desired benefits to protect the environment, while conserving the natural resources.
How much GHGs does AFOLU sector emit?
AFOLU currently emits 13 to 21% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions.
Agriculture is the largest contributor accounting for 70% of total emissions from the sector. Livestock production, rice cultivation and fertilizer use are among the biggest sources of emissions.
Deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 10% of global GHG emissions.
Tropical deforestation alone is responsible for around 8 % of global emissions.
44 % of methane emissions come from agriculture, peatland destruction and other land-based sources.
Deforestation and land-use change are major contributors to GHG emissions and biodiversity loss. This makes sustainable land management practices an absolute necessity to address climate crisis and protect ecosystems. Due to their significant contribution to GHG emissions, AFOLU sector is uniquely positioned to deliver mitigation benefits in climate change. The deployment of finance in climate mitigation is therefore critical to help in achieving the Paris goals.
Agriculture and food systems are vulnerable to climate related shocks, especially in low-income countries. There is a direct impact on the quality and yield of agriculture production resulting in food insecurity and economic loss. AFOLU sector has an economic importance in low income countries, constituting 25 % of their GDP and providing employment to 63% of the workforce.
Impact on Carbon cycling
Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and hence the forests and other ecosystems that have developed over years store vast amounts of carbon. Farming and burning of plant material results in change of this land from being a carbon sink to a source of GHG emissions, thereby having a negative impact on the emission balance. Increasing plant biomass contributes to carbon sequestration and reduces carbon dioxide concentration and hence management of woodland impacts the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere.
Emissions due to agriculture
As direct emissions from agriculture, methane from enteric fermentation, nitrous oxide from soil management, carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuel and changes in land use are the important sources of GHG emissions.
Other Environmental Impacts
Fertilizers rich in nitrogen can threaten marine ecosystems. Pesticides and herbicides also result in biodiversity loss. Clearing lands for farming can destroy natural habitats and threaten wildlife. There could be water stress leading to drought and water scarcity. The erosion and compaction of soils also leaves them useless for the future.
How AFOLU can drive Climate Change
AFOLU emission reduction projects focus on restoring and protecting forests and implementing sustainable land use methods to tackle climate action.
Forests absorb 25 to 30% of the total anthropogenic GHG emissions released in the atmosphere.
Forests in their tree growth capture the carbon in the wood, roots and soil. They provide us vital resources like food and oxygen and regulate the temperatures on earth and provide homes to indigenous communities. However, according to Global Forest Watch, the extent of world’s intact forest landscapes decreased by 12% between 2000 and 2020.
Today, there has been realization on the importance of forests and planting trees has been one of the potential solutions to leverage positive climate effects. Along with planting, these trees need to be managed and cared to keep them healthy and this is possible with AFOLU projects. AFOLU projects focussed on forest restoration plan their project activities in such a way that trees receive the required care. The carbon credits that these projects generate help finance and the people who earn their livelihoods in these areas.
There are other projects focussed on improving land use through sustainable agriculture practices that are less harmful and help in preserving the natural resources. Regenerative agriculture seeks to minimize external inputs outside the farm and emphasizes the use of internal resources thereby minimizing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The wide range of regenerative practices include conservation tillage, cover cropping, crop rotations, residue retention and planned grazing. These practices enhance productivity, sequester carbon and preserve biodiversity.
AFOLU projects fall under the following categories.
- Afforestation, Reforestation and Revegetation (ARR)
- Agriculture Land Management (ALM)
- Improved Forest Management (IFM)
- Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)
- Wetland Restoration and Conservation (WRC)
Carbon credits from climate positive projects are quickly being adopted to encourage sustainable business practices and help reach net-zero goals. The voluntary carbon market worth 4! Billion in 2021 is attracting the interest of global corporations. While most of the projects used to generate these credits are related to renewable energy and afforestation, carbon farming is also picking up. These programs enhance the role of agriculture in climate mitigation through soil carbon sequestration and subsequent trading of carbon offsets. Verra’s VCS program leads the way in developing methodologies and tools to unlock the carbon reduction potential of AFOLU projects. The Verified Carbon Standard is the widely used standard in the sector.
Challenges in the AFOLU sector
With the demand to feed the growing population, deforestation and conversion of natural habitats to croplands and pasture is on the rise and this contributes significantly to GHG emissions.
- Water scarcity
Agriculture uses up freshwater resources and this has led to water scarcity, climate change and pollution.
- Soil degradation
Unsustainable land use practices like excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, overgrazing leads to soil degradation affecting soil health and its ability to sequester carbon.
- Biodiversity loss
Intensive agriculture practices and land-use changes has threatened the survival of plant and animal species and resulted in biodiversity loss.
- Local Communities
The people employed in this sector live in poverty and lack access to resources and knowledge, thereby affecting their livelihoods.
- Natural risks
AFOLU projects run into the risk of natural risks like fires, hurricanes, pest invasions and climate change.
As global warming continues to rise, more support on the finance and time is required for AFOLU to mitigate the continuous effects of climate change. AFOLU requires continuous support from all its stakeholders in order to achieve the environmental goals. It is important to establish long-term policies that could provide sustainable measures to the agriculture and forest communities.
Technology interventions in the AFOLU sector
Sustainable Farm management practices can have a significant impact on reducing GHG emissions and hence improving productivity in the AFOLU sector. Farm management Software can help in implementing standard package of practices for sustainable land management. Soil health, Nutrient management and Livestock management are critical to reduce GHG emissions. Enhancing crop management practices, reducing input usage and improving yields help to counter climate changes. Remote sensing involves use of satellites to monitor land use changes, deforestation and other factors that affect emissions from the AFOLU sector. Simpler validation and verification processes for carbon credits help to scale carbon projects faster and promote sustainable practices.
TraceX is addressing climate change with nature-based solutions in the AFOLU sector. The DMRV tool fast tracks the verification process with greater accuracy and credibility. Realizing quality credits builds trust and integrity in the carbon markets. The Farm management solutions empower producers to follow sustainable agriculture practices and capture data on real-time to ensure transparency in the markets. End to end traceability drives sustainability of the agriculture sector impacting climate change.
The real challenge in the AFOLU sector is to judiciously determine the trade-offs and synergies among different sub- sectors that are highly interlinked. Paris agreement formally recognizes the role of AFOLU sector in climate change mitigation and expects that all parties take action on conserving and enhancing GHG sinks. AFOLU sector is also very important in Asia which accounts for the largest proportion of global AFOLU emissions. Understanding the role of AFOLU in a country’s emission profiles, costs of mitigation strategies and financing can help in adding further mitigation efforts.
AFOLU sector requires a holistic approach that takes into account social, economic and environmental factors to achieve sustainability. Working together to implement sustainable practices, farmers, policy makers and other stakeholders can contribute globally to mitigate climate change.