Net Zero Emissions in Agriculture

Net Zero Emissions in Agriculture

CHEN AN XI(China Productivity Center Young Farmers Consulting Team)

The impact of climate change and the frequent occurrence of natural disasters in recent years have once again aroused the alert on the issue of carbon reduction. The 2021 report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on August 10, 2021 indicates that disasters like floods, fires, continue to cause impact on the environment. Based on all emissions scenarios modelled in the report, the Earth surface temperature will rise by 1.5°C over the next 20 years, with increasing frequency. The report points out that carbon dioxide emission must be significantly reduced within the next 10 years to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to limit the extent of warming to within 1.5°C.

Countries have proposed their carbon reduction plans. In Taiwan, the Council of Agriculture took the initiative in proposing net zero emission policy in agriculture and organized the "Climate Change Adaptation and Net Zero Emissions Project Office" on September 1, 2021, to coordinate the planning of responses to climate change policies in the agricultural sector and to promote agricultural adaptation and emission reduction measures.

According to the <2021 National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory Report>, the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Taiwan increased from 137,763,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (excluding carbon dioxide removal) in 1990 to 287,060,000 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019 (excluding carbon dioxide removal). The net emission was 265,621,000 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, after deducting the carbon sink of 21,440,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a decrease of 3.6% compared with 2018 and a decrease of 1.1% compared with 2005. The data is shown in the following figure:

In terms of sectors, the energy sector has the highest total GHG emissions in Taiwan. In 2019, GHG emissions from the energy sector accounted for about 90.80% of the total emissions (excluding LULUCF), followed by 7.10 % of the industrial process and product use sector, 1.15% of the agricultural sector, 0.94% of the waste sector. The trend of GHG emissions by sectors in Taiwan from 1990 to 2019 is shown in the figure below:

The types of greenhouse gases emitted in the agricultural sector include methane, nitrous oxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas emissions in this sector show a decreasing trend. In 2019, it accounted for about 1.15% of Taiwan's total greenhouse gas emissions, a decrease of 34.63% as compared to 1990, with an average annual rate of -1.46%, as shown in the figure below:

The downward trend since 1990 in the agricultural sector is mainly a result of the reduction of arable land and livestock and poultry breeding, which has been due to the entry into the WTO and economic and trade liberalization. The promotion of rational fertilization also contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

In 2019, Taiwan's overall carbon emissions were 287,060,000 metric tons, of which the agricultural sector accounted for 1.15%, mainly from the farming soil, rice planting, and gastrointestinal fermentation of livestock and poultry. With the 0.58% emissions from fuel combustion such as from agricultural machinery, fishing boats, horticultural greenhouses, etc., the overall agricultural carbon emissions account for about 1.73% of the whole. The forest carbon sink per hectare is 97,600 metric tons, with a total amount of 21,440,000 metric tons, which is more than enough to offset the agricultural carbon emissions.

However, there may be some agricultural carbon emissions unaccounted for. For example, chemical pesticides and fertilizers imported or locally produced are widely used and generate a large amount of greenhouse gases in production, transportation, and application.

According to the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the global use of pesticides in 2019 was 4.2 million metric tons, and Taiwan’s pesticide use was 8,983 metric tons, accounting for 2% of the world’s total. According to statistics from the Agriculture and Food Administration, Taiwan used about 840,000 metric tons of chemical fertilizers in 2019, more than the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. The data of the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute indicate 1.132 metric tons of chemical fertilizers used on one hectare of agricultural land, which is about 2.2 times that of China, 4.6 times that of the United Kingdom, 5.1 times that of Japan, and 6.7 times that of India.

Since 2017, the Council of Agriculture has implemented the policy of "halving chemical pesticides in ten years". According to the statistics of the Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, the use of pesticides has not been significantly reduced. The amount of pesticides used in 2019 was 8,983 metric tons, only 1.7% lower than before. The use of highly toxic pesticides has been greatly reduced by 50%, though. However, the "rationalized fertilization" policy over the years has reduced the amount of chemical fertilizers by nearly 20% in the past 10 years.

In addition, the carbon emissions caused by the transportation of agricultural products, food processing, food waste, and 66% of the food imported from abroad are not included in the invisible emission sources of the agricultural sector, but are counted in other sectors or other countries.

As the agricultural sector needs to maintain production and food security, carbon emissions cannot be completely zeroed. Reduction of agricultural carbon emissions is still a direction worthy of continued effort. It is first necessary to take an inventory of carbon in the current condition to obtain the benchmark amount. With this goal, the carbon sink can be increased to obtain carbon credit. The basic principle is to register first, and then establish a benchmark for the mechanism of measurement, reporting and verification. After obtaining carbon credit, carbon trading can be carried out.

For farmers willing to cooperate with the net zero emission policy, the Council of Agriculture, while encouraging afforestation and carbon reduction without affecting the farmers’ income, will also assist farmers to increase their income through carbon credit and carbon trading. And, in order to encourage consumers to buy products with lower carbon footprints, an inventory of agricultural carbon footprints will also be carried out, with the carbon footprints of agricultural products clearly marked from the production end to the purchase of products.

The Council of Agriculture is now formulating an organic and eco-friendly program for valuing the carbon sink of soils. The “carbon reduction contribution” of farmers will be calculated and sold, at a rational price, to enterprises who rely on carbon credits to offset emissions from their operations. The income of the farmers will be invested in the eco-friendly farming, thereby promoting the sustainability transitions of agriculture, enhancing the added value of agriculture and realizing the common good among the people, things, and the environment

Four main axes of agricultural net zero emissions

1. Comprehensive information system of agricultural carbon emission, for the establishment of a low-carbon agricultural, fishery and livestock production model to achieve the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Increasing the area of forest carbon sinks, enhancing forest management, improving the utilization of domestic materials, and strengthen the management of carbon sinks in oceans and wetlands, so as to construct negative emission farming methods and strengthen carbon sink benefits.

3. Value-added reuse of agricultural residues to make them energies and resources, and promotion of agricultural cross-domain sector recycling demonstration sites, enhancement of scientific and technological research and development of agricultural recycling technologies.

4. Development of energy-sufficient farming and fishing villages, promotion of effective carbon pricing and carbon credit trading systems in the agricultural sector, as well as agricultural green finance and green consumption, so as to achieve autonomous power generation and self-sufficiency in electricity consumption in rural areas.