Feeding the world's increasing population while limiting climate change impacts; decoupling agriculture' s N2O and CH4 emissions from population growth

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Abstract

The global demand for agricultural products, including food, is rapidly increasing due to population growth and shifts in consumption patterns. The required increase in agricultural production is predominantly to be achieved in countries with relatively low agricultural production levels at present. These are mainly developing countries and countries in transition, the so-called non-Annex I countries of the UNFCCC. However, intensification of agricultural production systems is currently closely linked to high emissions of greenhouse gases notably nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4). In this paper the relations between population growth, agricultural development and emissions of N2O and CH4 were assessed for 10 non-Annex I countries, viz. China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa. We combined FAO data on agricultural production levels, CENSUS data on population statistics and EDGAR data on N2O and CH4 emissions. The projected trends in agricultural production indicate that emissions of N2O and CH4 are expected to increase rapidly in the coming years and will level off from 2040 onwards. The results confirm the positive relation between population increase and increased emissions from agricultural activities for most countries. However, for some countries (South Africa, China and Mexico) this relation was weak or absent. Although numerous factors (e.g. changes in international trade) may have scattered the relation and we were unable to explain this decoupling, it suggests that population growth can be possible without additional emissions. The variation between the different countries and farming systems is however large and mitigation measures at farm-level should be tailored to the wide diversity in environmental conditions, regional customs and farming systems. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-96
JournalEnvironmental Science & Policy
Volume13
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Keywords

  • greenhouse-gas emissions
  • mitigation options
  • constraints
  • strategies
  • policy

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