Agriculture could be carbon-negative by 2050

Researchers say changes in ag technology and management could help remove 13 billion tons of CO2 annually


Agriculture could be carbon-negative by 2050

Researchers say changes in ag technology and management could help remove 13 billion tons of CO2 annually

A groundbreaking study, published in PLOS Climate in September 2023, suggests that agriculture has the potential to be carbon-negative by 2050. Changes in agricultural technology and management could not only slow down greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but actually achieve net negative emissions, removing 13 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually by 2050, the study found. (The world currently emits around 50 billion tons of CO2 equivalent each year.)

The study highlights the pivotal role of agriculture in combating climate change.

“One of the most powerful weapons against global climate change is our food system,” said Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech, a leading global partner for sustainability in agri-food.

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Organized by the World Wildlife Fund in collaboration with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, the study explores the influence of consumer choices, climate-smart agro-industrial technologies, and reducing food waste as means to achieve these negative emissions.

“We need to move beyond silver-bullet thinking and rapidly test, verify and scale local solutions by leveraging market-based incentives,” said co-lead author Professor Benjamin Houlton, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University.

The researchers used a global food system model to assess the impact of various factors on GHG emissions, including dietary changes and agricultural technologies. While dietary changes had minimal effects on carbon sequestration, the study identified promising technologies for achieving net negative emissions: hydrogen-powered fertilizer production, innovative livestock feeds, organic and inorganic soil modifications, agroforestry and sustainable seafood harvesting practices.

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Agriculture, which contributes about a quarter of global GHG emissions, has the unique ability to reduce its own emissions and capture and sequester emissions from other industries. This makes agriculture a powerful tool in the fight against climate change.

The study emphasized the need to focus on soil health, advanced nutrition, pasture management practices and the adoption of climate-smart technologies to enhance carbon capture in the agriculture industry.

Agricultural technologies and practices required to increase carbon capture could be “regionally down-scaled according to local culture, economics, technology readiness and agricultural management capacities,” the PLOS Climate study concluded.

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