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Agriculture and climate change mitigation

Germany aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent at least by 2030. The Federal Government has initiated a Climate Change Act for this purpose. The Act aims at a reduction of annual emissions in the agricultural sector of from 11 to 14 million tons CO² equivalents by 2030 compared with the levels of 2014. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) has developed a package of measures designed to ensure that this target is achieved.

The focus of efforts to tackle climate change in agriculture is, on the one hand, on reducing emissions - and on the other hand on using resources more efficiently and thus making production more sustainable. It is also planned to promote carbon sequestration capacities in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Climate action measures in detail

  1. Reduction of nitrogen surpluses
  2. Power generation with farm manure
  3. Expansion of organic farming
  4. Reduction of emissions in animal husbandry
  5. Upscaling of energy efficiency
  6. Preservation and formation of humus on arable land
  7. Conservation of permanent grassland
  8. Protection of moorland/reduction of peat use in growing media
  9. Conservation and sustainable management of forests and timber use
  10. Avoidance of food waste

The BMEL was guided by the following principles in developing the measures:

  • No reductions in output and no competitive disadvantage for the agricultural and forestry sectors in Germany.
  • Harness synergies between climate change mitigation and adaptation and resource efficiency.
  • Build on already completed processes (German Sustainable Development Strategy, Arable Farming Strategy, Air Pollution Control, Charter for Wood Promotion 2.0).
  • Digital technologies and precision farming will help lower emissions.

While agriculture and forestry are climate change mitigators, they are also affected by climate change

Climate change mitigation, adaptation to climate change, food security and the production of renewable resources, including wood, are closely inter-related. While agriculture and forestry are affected by climate change, they are, at the same time, an important part of the solution. Totally emission-free production of food and renewable resources is not possible. Our goal is, however, to reduce emissions wherever possible. For instance, the BMEL promotes research projects on the subject.

Climate change will cause an increase in extreme weather events, as shown by the drought in 2018. The BMEL wants to help agriculture and forestry to make better provision for this. To this end, an agenda is being drafted on the adaptation of agriculture and forestry to climate change.

Forests and Forestry

Forests and forestry and the use of timber in long-life products sequester CO2 with a positive climate impact. The particular importance of forests and sustainable forestry for climate change mitigation arises from the reduction potential. The annual contribution of forestry and timber use to greenhouse gas reduction through storage and substitution effects alone is currently estimated at 127 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents for Germany. Without this contribution, the overall emissions in Germany would be 14% higher (in relation to the 2014 figure).

Forests store carbon - and this positive impact on the climate is even stronger in the case of sustainably managed forests. Another positive factor is the use of harvested wood in the material and energy sectors, which stores additional carbon and lowers emissions because wood processing and incineration are more eco-friendly than other products.

Given the current dramatic damage to forests, it is a matter of urgency to mitigate this damage. Furthermore, forests must be adapted more effectively to climate change by 2030. Otherwise, the large contribution forests make to climate change mitigation will not be able to be sustained and the climate targets that have been set will be jeopardised.

Soil

The contribution of agricultural land use to climate change mitigation is equally important. In order to precisely estimate the impact, the BMEL, for the first time, commissioned a German-wide inventory of organic carbon stocks in agriculturally-used soils. The Thünen Institute carried out this survey of soil condition in agriculture. Soil is thus the second largest carbon sink after the oceans. More than two billion tonnes of carbon are stored in agricultural soils in Germany.

However, soil can also become a source of emissions, for example when grassland is converted into arable land or drained peat soils are used for agricultural purposes, resulting in peat decomposition.

Food waste

Our consumer habits also determine the levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the agri-food industry. The production of foodstuffs uses up valuable resources such as soil, water, energy, fuel and manpower, and involves the emission of greenhouse gases. Too much food still ends up in the bin. Food waste is generated at all points of the value-added chain, around 11 million tonnes per year in Germany.

The BMEL wants to halve the volume of food waste by 2030. In February 2019, the Federal Cabinet adopted the National Strategy for Food Waste Reduction to this end. If food waste were reduced by 50%, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut in Germany by 6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents, according to an expert opinion by the Scientific Advisory Boards on Food, Agricultural and Forest Policies of the BMEL. With the “Too good for the bin” initiative, the BMEL draws attention to unnecessary food waste and provides advice on prevention.

Renewable resources from the agricultural sector

The use of renewable resources as an energy source from the agricultural sector in the form of biofuels or biogas replaces fossil energy sources. It must be borne in mind that, despite the fact that fossil-energy emissions are avoided in this way, the production of bioenergy sources also causes emissions. However, taking the emissions from bioenergy production into account, the use of bioenergy from renewable resources produced by agriculture still results in net savings of more than 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in Germany.

In order to achieve a maximum impact on the climate it is important to ensure a sustainable and low-emission production of energy crops. In particular, it is necessary to ensure that the use of bioenergy does not ultimately lead to increases in emissions resulting from land being put to different uses, such as the conversion of grassland into arable land or imports from the clearing of tropical forests.

 

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