The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new report last week that presents the latest global assessment on climate change. The report is the third part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, produced by the world’s leading climate scientists. The report outlines the most up-to-date evidence around climate change and details how we can reduce the impacts and how we can adapt to it. 

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) includes three releases: The Working Group I contribution (released on 9 August 2021) and the Working Group II and III contributions which were released on 28 February and 4 April 2022 respectively. The third report in this series (“Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change”) outlines the key findings of Working Group 3; presented in a technical summary and a summary for policymakers, in addition to a full scientific report.

Headline findings

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are still rising. However, the rate of growth of emissions was lower between 2010-2019 than between 2000-2009.

Current climate change modelling suggests that we are on track for 3oC warming and we need to act now if we want to change this to 2oC or 1.5oC.

The IPCC recorded a 6% emissions reduction in fossil fuel emissions and industrial processes in 2020 compared to 2019, due to COVID-19.

One of the main sectors that needs to change for us to reduce our global GHG emissions and limit warming to 2oC or 1.5oC is the energy production sector. According to the IPCC, we need strategies that include transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energies, using fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage technologies, changing demand, improving efficiencies and using technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU)

The IPCC consider agriculture emissions alongside forestry and other land uses when it is compiling these reports. Here we outline the key findings and strategies to reduce climate change that were discussed for agriculture, forestry, and other land uses.

Globally, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces around 15% of total GHG emissions. These emissions include land use change (e.g., deforestation) for agricultural expansion, which makes up approximately half of these emissions.

The IPCC modelling suggests that agriculture, forestry and other land uses can get to Net Zero* at a similar time to the energy supply sector, and before buildings, industry and transport sectors. To do this, reduced deforestation (particularly in tropical regions) and tree planting (reforestation) will be critical.

*Net Zero means that the GHG emissions produced are balanced by the GHG emissions taken up or sequestered by a system. To reach Net Zero, we must reduce emissions as much as possible, and then balance any residual emissions that cannot be easily removed (e.g. methane emissions from livestock systems).

How can agriculture get to Net Zero?

Agriculture, forestry and other land use mitigation options can provide very large GHG emissions reductions and can help support GHG emissions removals from other sectors. The IPCC report stressed that the other sectors cannot rely on land management to compensate for delayed action and that every sector needs to act to reduce GHG emissions.

Four key areas were highlighted that would enable agriculture, forestry and other land uses to reach Net Zero:

  • Conserve existing nature: Conserving, improving the management of, and restoring forests, peatlands, coastal wetlands and grasslands, combined with reducing tropical deforestation, give the largest amount of GHG emissions savings, according to the IPCC report.
  • Improve sustainable crop and livestock management: This includes the consideration of carbon sequestration in agricultural systems, such as having good soil carbon management in croplands, grasslands and agroforestry.
  • Demand-side changes: Substituting materials with agricultural and forestry products; encouraging sustainable, balanced, healthy diets; reducing food loss and waste at all stages of the supply chain (from farm to fork); and using biomaterials where possible can considerably reduce emissions.
  • Sustainable intensification: Increasing yields and productivity in a sustainable way is recommended to ensure that more value is gained from the land we have, which can reduce the requirement for land use change (e.g., converting forests into grazing pastures) and reduce methane and N2O emissions.

The IPCC recognise that these options have co-benefits including food and water security, as well as biodiversity conservation. However, barriers to the uptake of these practices must also be considered and addressed, including: competing demands on land; conflicts with food security and livelihoods; impacts of climate change on yields; land ownership complexities; and cultural aspects.

The figure below, extracted from the IPCC report, shows how large the GHG emissions savings are for each mitigation strategy (relative to how long the bars are). The error bars show the uncertainty of this range. The colours indicate how expensive the strategies are, with yellow being the cheapest, orange getting more expensive, and redder being the most expensive. The costs were calculated against a reference technology, with costs in blue deemed to be cheaper than the reference technology.

ICC climate report