Agriculture, climate change mitigation and climate resilience

The climate crisis is the greatest threat to agriculture, because protecting the climate, soils, water and biodiversity will determine whether we can continue to ensure our food supplies tomorrow. Climate change mitigation and increased climate resilience – i.e. resilience to the consequences of the climate crisis – are therefore the cornerstones of a forward-looking agricultural policy.

By 2030, Germany wants to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 65 percent at least compared with 1990. The Climate Change Act provides for a reduction of annual emissions in agriculture to 56 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents by 2030.  Binding annual interim targets have also been stipulated for this purpose. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has developed ten measures designed to ensure that the legal requirements for the agricultural and forestry sectors are met.

These have become part of the 2030 Climate Action Programme, which the Federal Cabinet adopted in 2019. The Immediate Climate Action Programme for 2022  provides additional support for the achievement of the targets set and for the implementation of these measures in view of the more ambitious goals adopted following the amendment to the Climate Change Act.

The focus of climate action efforts in agriculture and forestry is to reduce emissions and use resources more efficiently, thus making production more sustainable overall. It is also planned to promote carbon sequestration capacities in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Mandatory reduction of CO2 equivalents

On 9 October 2019, the Federal Cabinet adopted the detailed 2030 Climate Action Programme. On 2 December 2020, the 5th Climate Cabinet featured on the agenda to review the implementation of the Climate Action Programme. Numerous activities are also underway at European level. The target of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050 was made mandatory and the first European Climate Law took effect on 25 June 2021.

Following the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on amending the national Climate Change Act, the Federal Cabinet adopted the Immediate Climate Action Programme for 2022 on 23 June 2021 and allocated an additional EUR 8 billion for concrete climate action measures. About EUR 480 million of these funds have been allocated to the agricultural, land-use, land-use change and forestry sectors (LULUCF).

Climate action measures in detail

  1. Lowering nitrogen surpluses and emissions, including the reduction of ammonia emissions, and targeted decrease of nitrous oxide emissions, improving nitrogen use efficiency
  2. Increasing the fermentation of farm manure and agricultural residues
  3. Expansion of organic farming
  4. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in animal husbandry
  5. Upscaling of energy efficiency in agriculture
  6. Preservation and formation of humus on arable land
  7. Conservation of permanent grassland
  8. Protection of moorland, including the reduction of the use of peat in growing media
  9. Conservation and sustainable management of forests and timber use
  10. Sustainable food consumption, including the avoidance of food waste, as well as the federal administrative authorities’ programme on strengthening sustainability in mass catering

The following principles guide the BMEL when it comes to developing and implementing climate action measures:

  • No production restrictions or competitive disadvantages for the agricultural and forestry sectors in Germany.
  • Harnessing of synergies between climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation and resource efficiency.
  • Building on already adopted processes and initiation of new processes (German Sustainable Development Strategy, Arable Farming Strategy, Air Pollution Control, Charter for Wood Promotion 2.0, 2050 Forest Strategy).
  • 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, climate change adaptation, 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, however, is to reduce emissions wherever possible. The BMEL is actively engaged in promoting research projects on climate change mitigation in agriculture and - together with the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) - in forestry.

Climate change will cause an increase in extreme weather events, as shown by the droughts in 2018 and 2019. The BMEL wants to help agriculture and forestry to be better prepared for this. To this end, the BMEL drafted an agenda for climate change adaptation in agriculture, forestry and aquaculture as well as an associated programme of measures.

Our carbon sinks: Forests and soils

Our soils, along with forests and forestry, including the use of timber in long-life products, all sequester CO2 which has a positive impact on the climate. The particular importance of forests and sustainable forestry for climate change mitigation results from the potential they have to reduce CO2 emissions. Forests store carbon - and this positive impact on the climate is even stronger in the case of sustainably managed forests, avoiding the shift of emissions to other sectors (e.g. manufacturing of energy-intensive building materials) or countries from which Germany imports timber (cf. expertise delivered by the Scientific Advisory Board on Forest Policy at the BMEL on the amendments to the Federal Climate Change Act). By using harvested wood in the material and energy sectors, additional carbon is stored and emissions can be lowered. The forest soil condition survey provides the data base for estimating the carbon stocks in forest soils. It is carried out by the Federal Government and the Laender at around 1900 sample points.

Given the current dramatic damage to forests, it is a matter of urgency to mitigate this damage.

The BMEL has launched an unprecedented aid programme to this end and, together with the Laender, has earmarked EUR 1.5 billion for the period up until 2023.  By 2030, measures to adapt forests to climate change will also have to be reinforced. Otherwise, the major 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.


Equally important is the contribution of agricultural land use to climate change mitigation. In order to precisely estimate the impact, the Thünen Institute carried out the soil condition survey for agriculture. Accordingly, soils are the second largest carbon sinks after the oceans. More than two billion tonnes of carbon are stored in Germany's agricultural soils.  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. Nevertheless, as in forests, there is enormous potential here that needs to be harnessed to a greater extent. To this end, the BMEL launched a model and demonstration project (MaD) in May 2021, which is designed to explore options for humus formation in soils used by agriculture (with a focus on arable farming) beyond the current state of knowledge. Further MaDs on humus formation with other types of farming are currently being prepared.

In addition, the BMEL champions the development of solutions to curb greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands used for agricultural and forestry purposes. This includes, for instance, the Target Agreement between the Federal Government and the Laender on Peatland Protection signed on 20 October 2021, which the BMEL drew up together with the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) and the Laender. The agreement is aimed at reducing annual greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands by five million tonnes of CO2 equivalents by 2030. Moreover, the agreement also initiates funding programmes such as MaDs or research and development projects (R&D).

Sustainable food consumption

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, fuels and manpower and involves the emission of greenhouse gases.

Emissions from agriculture

Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture chiefly consist of nitrous oxide and methane, which are generated by natural processes in the soil, digestion in animal husbandry and the storage of manure and slurry. These gases have a considerably greater impact on the climate than carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels are incinerated. The level of emissions and reductions is converted and expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalents, thus providing comparability.

By eating sustainably, every individual can thus contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Today, the production, processing and transport of foods and their upstream products are subject to manifold processes that involve different levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This specifically concerns animal products, but also, for instance, products whose production or transport requires a great deal of energy.

Too much food still ends up in the bin. Food waste is generated at every point in the value chain, corresponding to around 12 million tonnes per year in Germany. About half of all food waste is generated in private households.

Based on SDG 12.3, the volume of food waste at consumer and retail levels is to be halved by 2030. To this end, the Federal Cabinet of the 19th legislative period, which recently came to an end, adopted the National Strategy for Food Waste Reduction, which is being implemented based on a participatory dialogue process. According to an expertise by the Scientific Advisory Boards on Food, Agricultural and Forest Policies of the BMEL, halving food waste would save six million tonnes of CO2 equivalents in greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. With the "Too good for the bin" initiative, the BMEL draws attention to unnecessary food wastage and provides advice on how to prevent food waste. Because this is where all consumers can make their contribution to climate change mitigation and our environment.

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