How Does Agriculture Change Our Climate?

Agriculture, deforestation and other land use account for roughly 20 percent of all GHG emissions

Since the start of the Green Revolution, the productivity of the global agricultural system has more than doubled, improving food security for a growing population and meeting dietary demands of an increasingly wealthy world. This astounding productivity has also imposed environmental costs. While global agriculture faces a number of challenges, the most surprising challenge to food security may come from agriculture’s impact on our climate.

Right now, the world’s agricultural sector, which in this report refers to management and land clearing related to agriculture, accounts for about one fifth of total greenhouse gases. That’s more than all of the world’s cars, planes, and trains combined. Emissions from agriculture and deforestation are three times greater than emissions from the global building sector, and equal to all industrial emissions. In fact, energy production is the only sector that has a higher share of emissions (37 percent).

In this report, we consider emissions from just part of the global food system: deforestation and agricultural management. The share of emissions from transportation of products in the global food supply chain, packaging, and food waste, for example, are important but not included here. When these activities are also considered, the global food system accounts for roughly 30 percent of global emissions.

Despite agriculture’s central role in changing the global climate, there are promising opportunities for mitigating emissions and reducing the demand for high-emissions food in the first place. Developing a global food system that both achieves food security and reduces agriculture’s environmental impact is one of the foremost challenges of our time.