In a Decade, the CCAC Shows Agriculture is Key to the Success of Climate Change and Air Pollution Solutions

by CCAC secretariat - 2 May, 2022
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) celebrates 10 years of supporting increased climate action and ambition in the agriculture sector.

Ten years ago, it was uncommon for agriculture to be seen as a major contributor to the global climate crisis, let alone as part of the solution. Threats to agricultural production were instead largely viewed in a silo, separate from other major crises the world was facing such as air pollution, hunger, and development challenges.

When the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) was formed in 2012, it helped to change the ways in which these interconnected challenges were perceived -  as a major source of emissions, action in the agriculture sector was not only a key solution to the climate crisis, but emissions reductions also had the potential to boost crop yields and strengthen food security while improving air quality and public health. In turn, persistent development challenges could be addressed in countries around the world. 

“Agriculture was a sector that was impacted by climate change, rather than one that could contribute towards solving the problem,” said Martial Bernoux, a Natural Resources Officer in the Climate Change Division of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “The CCAC was a key instrument in helping people realise that agriculture is not only suffering the impact of climate change but can also contribute to the solution.”

According to the CCAC’s Global Methane Assessment, agriculture is responsible for 40 percent of human-made methane emissions. Livestock emissions from manure and enteric fermentation, a digestive process that produces methane, comprise about 32 percent of those emissions, and rice cultivation is responsible for 8 percent.

Agriculture is crucial to sustaining life on the planet. Vital to human survival and nutrition, it also supports over 800 million jobs, creating livelihoods for 27 percent of the global workforce. This makes it a particularly challenging sector to tackle, as millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries operate on extraordinarily thin margins.

The CCAC was a key instrument in helping people realise that agriculture is not only suffering the impact of climate change but can also contribute to the solution.
Martial Bernoux

Climate change and air pollution are major impediments to food production, contributing directly to food insecurity and world hunger. Warmer temperatures, caused in part by short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), make food production more difficult as a result of extreme weather events like floods and droughts. Furthermore, methane is a precursor to tropospheric ozone, which stunts plant growth. Available methane reduction measures could reduce methane by 45 percent by 2030, which would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by the 2040s and prevent 26 million tonnes of crop losses globally each year.

“All of these things make it economically and ethically vital to reduce methane as soon as possible, for the sake of food security and for the sake of human well-being,” said Drew Shindell, CCAC Special Advisor for Action on Methane.

In 2017, the landmark Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA) decision was established by UNFCCC, recognizing the unique potential of agriculture in tackling climate change and making a bold commitment to ensuring that agricultural development is centred on food security and climate change mitigation. The decision represented an endorsement of the strategy the CCAC has championed since 2012.

“If you do not address agriculture correctly, you will not solve the problem,” said Bernoux.

The CCAC has contributed toward global awareness that the goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be met without dramatic changes in the agricultural sector. Furthermore, it has demonstrated that supporting countries in including more ambitious agricultural actions in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) is vital to realising international targets along with local benefits. 

The CCAC has helped countries come up with tailored strategies — such as improved feed, breeding of livestock, and crop management — that are better for the climate but do not come at the cost of productivity, crucial to developing countries seeking to feed growing populations and develop economically. Instead, these actions enable countries to create more sustainable, equitable, and profitable agricultural sectors while optimising water resources, increasing crop yields, and reducing air pollution. In turn, progress is made toward multiple Sustainable Development Goals.

“It's a development agenda. It's about putting people’s livelihoods and farmers’ well-being first,” said Katie Ross of the World Resources Institute. “Improving emissions intensity is good from an economic standpoint because farmers get more money and it’s good from a climate standpoint because the techniques reduce methane emissions per unit of output.”

Securing a Healthy and Well-Fed Future for the Planet through Rice Sector Transformation

The agricultural sector is ripe with solutions that reduce emissions without compromising food security or farmer livelihood. The CCAC has helped pioneer an approach that combines action on climate change, air pollution, and agricultural productivity, enabling farmers to reduce their emissions footprint while saving money and increasing productivity.

Rice is a staple crop in dozens of countries around the world, which means that reducing its heavy methane impacts cannot come at the cost of production. In Vietnam, for example, 45 million tons of rice is produced every year, making the country the second-largest exporter in the world. According to Dr. Tran Dai Nghia, Director of Vietnam’s Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), the land-use sector is responsible for almost 67 percent of Vietnam’s methane emissions and 75 percent of that is from rice cultivation.

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A farmer using the alternate wetting and drying technique, a growing practice that reduce methane emissions by 30%-70%.

Through community engagement and public-private partnerships, CCAC has championed innovative farming techniques in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh, such as Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD), which can reduce water use by up to 30 percent and methane emissions by 48 percent while also increasing crop yields.

Vietnam included agricultural mitigation into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), with the help of the CCAC’s Solutions Center. The Coalition’s expert assistance service helped Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) work with the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD) to update their NDCs, including by adding specific actions and priorities for achieving its agricultural mitigation goals.

“The support that it provides gives us the chance to have deeper insight and analysis, a better scientific basis to support selecting appropriate measures in reducing greenhouse gases,” said Tran Dai Nghia of Ipsard.

These insights were developed via a survey Nghia completed, funded by the CCAC, to calculator the greenhouse gas emissions for every stage and type of livestock production, as well as the reduction potential of various interventions— including different types of waste management, biogas systems, composting, and using different types of animal feed.

“We don’t want to push the burden of mitigation on the shoulders of the small-scale farmers so we try to find the best mitigation strategies that will have co-benefits,” said Tran Dai Nghia of IPSARD. “So we focus on actions that will mitigate the climate change intensity of the greenhouse gas emissions while creating social benefits like jobs, improving the health of the farmer, poverty reduction, food security, and improving air quality.”

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Photo: Bangladeshi rice farmers participate in a workshop on Alternate Wetting and Drying practices.

Bangladesh, a founding member of the coalition, is working with the CCAC and the International Rice Research Institute on AWD pilot programmes that organise farmer training, field visits, stakeholder meetings, a national workshop, and widespread media coverage. “Despite being a highly vulnerable country to climate change, Bangladesh contributes less than 0.3 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Nonetheless, Bangladesh wants to play an active role in the global network to reduce emissions,” said Dr. S.M. Mofijul Islam, Senior Scientific Officer and Head, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Regional Station, Satkhira, Bangladesh.

Methane reducing strategies beyond AWD include water management, fertiliser management, planting more efficient rice varieties, conservation agriculture, and improving existing cropping patterns.

“These co-benefits of SLCP mitigation have created a perfect opportunity for low greenhouse gas emitting developing countries, like Bangladesh, to play their part in global greenhouse gas emission reductions. At the same time, they’re reducing air pollution, maintaining public health, and contributing to food security and ensuring climate-resilient sustainable development,”  said a representative of the Climate Change Division at the Bangladesh Department of Environment.

This work is also helping the country achieve its national goals, including the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 and the Bangladesh National Action Plan for reducing SLCPs. This national action plan, developed with the support of the CCAC, would prevent 16,300 premature deaths, reduce black carbon emissions by 72 percent, and methane emissions by 37 per cent by 2040 while reducing climate change impacts.


Reducing Emissions Intensity in the Livestock Sector

Livestock is another major area of intervention and a sector where the CCAC has shown that climate-smart practices can benefit individual farmers and boost the economies of developing countries. 

“Rather than viewing climate change mitigation as an antagonist to livestock production and rural livelihoods, reducing emissions intensity is an important way of making it plausible that we can have both a vibrant livestock sector and reduce climate emissions,” said Dr. Andy Reisinger, the former Deputy Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. “All these things tend to reduce emissions intensity but also result in increased profitability and productivity of the livestock system that you’re dealing with— and that’s of course a core interest of livestock producers because it increases their ability to sell products into markets and it increases their resilience to shocks.”

Uruguay is a standout example of the ways in which what benefits the climate can also benefit farmers. Beef is an integral part of Uruguay’s economy, accounting for 70 per cent of its exports, it’s also, however, responsible for 70 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions. These improvements are relatively simple and low-cost: improving the quality of cattle feed by adding legumes and fodder crops, improving breeding practices, and better managing grazing land.

Climate Smart Livestock Production Project in Uruguay
CCAC work in Uruguay has increased national capacity and provided tools to reduce methane from enteric fermentation, improve productivity by 30%-35%, and achieve sustainable livestock production.

According to research supported by the CCAC, if Uruguay made strategic improvements in its livestock sector, it could reduce emissions intensity by 23 to 42 percent while also increasing the country’s beef production by 80 percent. 

Uruguay isn’t alone. A 2017 CCAC report found that similar interventions in Bangladesh, which contributes to 12 percent of the country’s GDP, could increase production by up to 27 percent while reducing emission intensity by around 17 percent. The CCAC produced similar reports in Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Ethiopia showing that low-cost strategies could reduce methane emissions while improving milk production, thus contributing to the country's economic development and increasing resilience to climate change without burdening individual farmers. Another study found similar potential effects in five West African countries.

This work is already underway. The CCAC is supporting a project in Uruguay called Ganaderia y Clima, which provides technical assistance to develop lower emissions ranching practices to 60 farms, which includes training in techniques like managing and improving grass and feed, managing cattle’s body fat reserves, and carefully monitoring and recording their emissions. The preliminary results show that Emissions intensity per unit of product decreased while overall beef production increased by 6 percent and sheep increased by 15 percent. Some 60 percent of the participating farms increased their net income by 50 percent from the previous year.


Boosting Nationally Determined Contributions with Agriculture

The CCAC and its partners have helped countries build the capacity, knowledge, and confidence to include agricultural goals in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), a key strategy that helps the farmer and helps the planet. Twenty-nine CCAC partner countries have included specific agriculture measures in their updated NDCs, with 16 mentioning enteric fermentation, 15 mentioning manure management, 11 including rice production, and eight including open burning.

“NDCs are an important lever to foster productive, resilient, and inclusive farming practices while keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. As the CCAC, WRI, and Oxfam paper shows, NDCs can help increase support for adaptation, build the resilience of small-scale and vulnerable farmers, reduce emissions in the agriculture sector, bring together climate with other sustainable development objectives, and attract investment and support,” said Katie Ross of the World Resources Institute. “ In their first NDCs, most countries identified agriculture as a key sector for action, both in terms of mitigation and adaptation—often referring to synergies and co-benefits between the two.”

The CCAC helped us to understand the impact of short-lived climate pollutants and to identify mitigation action with synergies between the country’s climate policy and its health policy. It also supported the creation of local capacity to model and study short-lived climate pollutants.
Rolando Castro

Costa Rica is a good example of this synergy, where CCAC-supported work helped the country determine that if Costa Rica’s NDC was updated to include livestock and other agricultural goals, the country would not only reduce emissions but would also increase productivity in a vital sector. As a result, Costa Rica’s updated NDCs committed to having 70 percent of the cattle herd and 60 percent of the land used for livestock to be low-emissions by 2030 and to decrease total pasture area by 1 percent annually, while also having well-managed pasture area increase by 1-2 percent annually. This work was also in line with Costa Rica’s Decarbonization Plan. Costa Rica further received support from the CCAC to develop national planning capacity to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants, support to effectively communicate this work, and help with engaging high-level political leaders.

“The mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants is key to a sustainable future,” said Vice Minister of Energy Rolando Castro. “Since 2017, the CCAC has supported us in two studies that analyse different aspects associated with short-lived climate pollutants. The CCAC helped us to understand the impact of short-lived climate pollutants and to identify mitigation action with synergies between the country’s climate policy and its health policy. It also supported the creation of local capacity to model and study short-lived climate pollutants.” 

The multiple benefits Costa Rica will experience as a result of updating its NDCs with agricultural goals will include leveraging private sector investments that can be reinvested into the sector to increase productivity and produce economic benefits and the increased productivity will support local jobs and reduce poverty.

“Reducing these emissions is good for economics and the quality of life of ordinary people,” said Victor-Gallardo. “More efficient cattle production increases the profitability of farms and reduces emissions. More recycling avoids the expansion of landfills or, worse, illegal dumps, which can affect the poorest communities,” said Luis Victor-Gallardo, Research Engineer at the Electric Power and Energy Research Laboratory in the University of Costa Rica.

“Inclusion of agricultural SLCP mitigation measures in the NDC under the Paris Agreement could be used as a platform to help increase support for mitigation measures,” said a representative from the Climate Change Division at the Bangladesh Department of Environment. “Adaptation co-benefits like alternate wetting and drying in rice farming will not only help foster more sustainable farming practices but will also help make the agriculture sector more climate-resilient.”


Better Data Creates Stronger Action

A major reason so many countries have been able to succeed in including agricultural goals into their Nationally Determined Contributions is because the CCAC and its partners have helped build national capacity to develop accurate emissions inventories and the kind of regular data collection and management necessary to carry out proper Monitoring Reporting and Verification (MRV). This has enabled governments to quantify reductions and in turn to measure the success of interventions.

“The reason we have MRV in UNFCCC processes is to build transparency. It is all about building trust and seeing whether we’re actually achieving the objectives set out in NDCs or national policies,” said Marci Baranski, at the UN Environment Programme’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “Strengthening institutional arrangements for MRV will really enhance countries' transparency and improve processes to develop greenhouse gas inventories and for national reporting.”

Precise emissions calculations and an ability to accurately estimate the impact of a variety of interventions — and then measure the eventual impact of those interventions — is crucial for countries to be able to confidently include ambitious reduction targets. The agricultural sector is particularly difficult to accurately track and measure because it is dispersed into so many smallholder farmers. 

Provincial and district officials of Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development help map out area for rolling out climate-friendly rice growing techniques

In Bangladesh, the CCAC worked with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) to provide technical and financial support to help the government, nonprofits, and the private sector conduct baseline assessments of SLCP emissions. It also helped the country make more targeted projections by building the technical capacity of the Department of the Environment to carry out integrated assessments of greenhouse gases and SLCPs using state of the art modelling tools that can do quantitative analyses of the emissions reduction potential of various plans, strategies, and policies. This helped the country identify simple interventions — such as improving the quality and availability of feed and improving herd management and livestock health — that have a reduction potential of about 17 percent, with the possibility of increasing milk production by 27 percent. This information was used to produce the national SLCP plan and to increase the ambition of their NDC, which is to reduce methane emissions by 17 percent by 2030, including by improving the agricultural sector.

The CCAC also worked with Ethiopia to determine the most effective interventions in the livestock sector and found that the country could reduce enteric methane emissions by 10 percent while increasing milk production by 170 percent. 

Vietnam is another country that included agricultural goals, adding both rice and livestock to its NDC target of reducing methane by 27 percent by 2030, if it receives international support.

In Vietnam, the CCAC is working with the International Rice Research Institute and CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) not only to help the government assess mitigation options but also to measure their impact.

This kind of detailed information is also helpful for countries to access climate finance, with some private sector investors and development banks more likely to offer compensation for reduced emissions intensity if emissions reductions are rigorously measured.


The Decade Ahead

Global understanding of the agriculture sector’s role in mitigating climate change and air pollution has been transformed as a result of the work done by the CCAC and its partners.

“There is a much deeper understanding of the links between air pollution, SLCPs, agricultural emissions, and food security. Most key stakeholders now understand how agriculture contributes to climate change, and also how climate change impacts agriculture—through impacts from floods, droughts, fires, as well as reduced yields due to black carbon and tropospheric ozone,” said Ross of WRI. “The CCAC has played a key role in advancing the science of SLCPs, deepening understanding with policymakers, testing pilot projects in agriculture, building partnerships, and building links between science and policy making.”

This understanding and awareness must now be leveraged into action. The challenges in the agricultural sector are major, with millions of smallholder farmers scattered across the world, but the CCAC intends to drive action towards the goals outlined in the Global Methane Assessment, which outlines the possibility of reducing methane by 20-15 per cent by 2030 and black carbon by 2030, including in the agricultural sector. The CCAC further intends to have all of its partners ensure that SLCPs in the agricultural sector are included in their national climate plans, including their NDCs. 

“We have no time, we are running out of time, every day, every month we do nothing we’ll pay a lot for that. It’s really time to walk the talk,” said Bernoux. “There is really a strong recognition that we need to find the low-hanging fruit where we can move fast and short-lived climate pollutants is that low-hanging fruit because a strong reduction in methane will have immediate benefits. We have no time, so there is a key role for the CCAC to really ensure that we are putting in place policies that will turn into concrete action on the ground in the coming years.”

The CCAC has a variety of strategies to advance these goals, including furthering sustainable manure management, eliminating agricultural burning, reducing paddy rice flooding, reducing enteric methane, and promoting emissions intensity reductions.  

Countries are already signalling their support for the decade ahead.

“We are currently developing the Ministry’s action plan for climate change for 2021 to 2030 and our 2050 vision. We will integrate short-lived climate pollutants into this action plan. We, therefore, endorse the CCAC’s 2030 Strategy,” said Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, Director General, International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam.

“Transitioning to a green, net-zero emission economy is an inevitable trend and imperative to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This process will not be without challenges, but will certainly bring huge opportunities and benefits in creating jobs, ensuring energy security, and enhancing economic competitiveness and sustainability. Vietnam is determined to follow this path,” said the Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc, voicing his commitment to transforming the country's agricultural sector in pursuit of both climate change and economic goals. “Transition must be just and inclusive. It must ensure equal access to opportunities and benefits, place the people at the centre, and leave no one behind.  It must especially be supported by the people, businesses, and scientists.”

Pollutants (SLCPs)