29/06/2021

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Achieving net zero in agriculture

With a combined population of just over one million, their residents live within heavily forested landscapes – sinks which store more carbon than the country emits. While carbon isn’t the only greenhouse gas (GHG), it is more persistent than other emissions such as methane and nitrogen dioxide.

Estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)1 suggest the agricultural  industry contributes up to 24 percent of GHG emissions worldwide, while agricultural production practices themselves can also lead to the destruction of essential habitats and carbon stores, such as forests and open grasslands.

Alongside other noted GHG sources such as transport and domestic energy use, agriculture is looking at new and innovative ways to work towards zero emissions.

We’ve taken a look around the world to see the importance attached to food and farming in rising to the net zero challenge.

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Environment: Land Use

Encouraged to plant a tree for every flight we take, we’ve come to believe that trees and forests are the carbon sinks on which we need to concentrate. But there’s increasing evidence that grasslands may be more reliable carbon stores than forests, particularly in the long-term.

A study from UC Davis6 found that while trees stored more carbon than grasslands, forests in some parts of the world are increasingly vulnerable to fires. The underground carbon, stored in grasslands’ massive biomass, is less susceptible to release in the event of fire or drought.

The trouble with grasslands is their agricultural attractiveness: deep and fertile soils, which sees around 1.7 million hectares lost each year7. In a bid to arrest the loss, researchers have developed a methodology to measure and verify the carbon sequestered by grasslands. This has allowed grassland owners to sell carbon credits to businesses, offering a chance to ‘erase your carbon footprint’, by supporting farmers who adopt sustainable farming practices, whether through grassland or other means.