Agriculture technology, or ag tech, has the potential to play a substantial role in lowering greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture industry, which is a major contributor to world emissions. As the world’s human population expands, so will greenhouse gas emissions from the food system. A recent study shows that cutting-edge agricultural technology and management can not only decrease but also eliminate, that growth by producing net negative emissions – eliminating more greenhouse gases than food systems produce.
According to a study published Sept. 6 in PLOS Climatic, using extra agricultural technology might result in more than 13 billion tons of net negative greenhouse gas emissions each year as the globe strives to avoid severe climatic extremes.
The work was led by Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, and Maya Almaraz, associate research scholar at Princeton University.
Our study recognizes the food system as one of the most powerful weapons in the battle against global climate change. By leveraging market-based incentives, we can move beyond silver-bullet thinking and rapidly test, verify, and scale local solutions.Benjamin Z. Houlton
“Our study recognizes the food system as one of the most powerful weapons in the battle against global climate change,” Houlton added. “By leveraging market-based incentives, we can move beyond silver bullet thinking and rapidly test, verify, and scale local solutions.”
Every year, the global food system network contributes between 21% and 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the world population expected to reach 10 billion by mid-century, greenhouse gas emissions from the global food system might increase by 50% to 80% by 2050, according to the research.
Previous research has indicated that changing diets around the world is key to reducing greenhouse gases in the food-system sector. However, Houlton and Almaraz believe the emission reduction could be much greater.
If the entire human population adopted a so-called “flexitarian” diet by 2050 – which is promoted by the EAT-Lancet Commission (a group of world experts who established a nutritious, healthy, and sustainable diet) — the scientists estimated a gross reduction of 8.2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which falls far short of the net negative emissions goal.
“Our study examines both dietary change and agricultural technologies, as various options for slashing emissions,” Almaraz said. “This included an analysis of carbon sequestration.”
In contrast to agricultural technology’s significant advantage in reducing enormous sector-wide negative emissions, dietary adjustments had minimal influence on carbon sequestration, according to the study. “We only looked at about a dozen technologies,” Almaraz admitted. “However, there are even more in the works that hold a lot of promise for the food system.”
The new model demonstrated that increasing crop soil modifications (biochar, compost, and rock additions), developing agroforestry, advancing sustainable seafood harvesting practices, and promoting hydrogen-powered fertilizer production are the most efficient ways to minimize emissions. For example, in a procedure known as “enhanced weathering,” silicate rock dust can be added to crop soils every five years to expedite the creation of carbonates. According to the article, this process consumes carbon dioxide and can store several billion metric tons of carbon every year.
Planting trees on empty farmland can impound up to 10.3 billion metric tons of carbon each year through agroforestry, whereas seaweed can be planted at the ocean surface and then buried in the deep sea, removing up to 10.7 billion metric tons of CO2. Adding additives to livestock feed might reduce methane emissions by 1.7 billion metric tons while applying biochar to croplands could reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 2.3 billion metric tons.
Environmental action in the food system must begin at the regional level. Since the mid-1970s, anaerobic digesters have been converting manure from New York’s dairy farms into electricity, cutting emissions, boosting energy self-sufficiency, and contributing to water quality improvements, according to Houlton. The waste-derived biogas generates energy that local electric companies may easily utilize, but this technique must avoid gas leaks, and financial incentives are still required. “We need a portfolio of solutions that are effective locally but have a global impact,” he explained.