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Synergies between the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in agriculture

  • P. SMITH (a1) and J. E. OLESEN (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 07 June 2010

There is a very significant, cost effective greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential in agriculture. The annual mitigation potential in agriculture is estimated to be 4200, 2600 and 1600 Mt CO2 equiv/yr at C prices of 100, 50 and 20 US$/t CO2 equiv, respectively. The value of GHG mitigated each year is equivalent to 420 000, 130 000 and 32 000 million US$/yr for C prices of 100, 50 and 20 US$/t CO2 equiv, respectively. From both the mitigation and economic perspectives, we cannot afford to miss out on this mitigation potential.

The challenge of agriculture within the climate change context is two-fold, both to reduce emissions and to adapt to a changing and more variable climate. The primary aim of the mitigation options is to reduce emissions of methane or nitrous oxide or to increase soil carbon storage. All the mitigation options, therefore, affect the carbon and/or nitrogen cycle of the agroecosystem in some way. This often not only affects the GHG emissions but also the soil properties and nutrient cycling. Adaptation to increased variability of temperature and rainfall involves increasing the resilience of the production systems. This may be done by improving soil water holding capacities through adding crop residues and manure to arable soils or by adding diversity to the crop rotations.

Though some mitigation measures may have negative impacts on the adaptive capacity of farming systems, most categories of adaptation options for climate change have positive impacts on mitigation. These include: (1) measures that reduce soil erosion, (2) measures that reduce leaching of nitrogen and phosphorus, (3) measures for conserving soil moisture, (4) increasing the diversity of crop rotations by choices of species or varieties, (5) modification of microclimate to reduce temperature extremes and provide shelter, (6) land use change involving abandonment or extensification of existing agricultural land, or avoidance of the cultivation of new land. These adaptation measures will in general, if properly applied, reduce GHG emissions, by improving nitrogen use efficiencies and improving soil carbon storage.

There appears to be a large potential for synergies between mitigation and adaptation within agriculture. This needs to be incorporated into economic analyses of the mitigation costs. The inter-linkages between mitigation and adaptation are, however, not very well explored and further studies are warranted to better quantify short- and long-term effects on suitability for mitigation and adaptation to climate change. In order to realize the full potential for agriculture in a climate change context, new agricultural production systems need to be developed that integrate bioenergy and food and feed production systems. This may possibly be obtained with perennial crops having low-environmental impacts, and deliver feedstocks for biorefineries for the production of biofuels, biomaterials and feed for livestock.

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