There seems to be no doubt of the fact that agriculture and climate change are interrelated - but the implications of this relationship are not always detailed, nor fully analysed. Does agriculture contribute to climate change? Or does it have mitigation potential? The point of departure should be to consider that all farming systems are different, although this obvious idea is not always considered. Two very recent reports give us some interesting discussion material.
The International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management (IPSRM), hosted by the UN Environmental Programme, aims to "provide scientific assessments on the sustainable use of natural resources". Its latest report, Environmental impacts of consumption and production, concludes that agriculture "has a disproportionately high impact on the planet's life support systems". Agricultural production uses 70% of the global fresh water available, accounts for 19% of greenhouse gas emissions, and for 60% of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Agriculture is put in the same category as fossil fuels.
At the same time, FAO has submitted a paper to the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), as a contribution to the UNFCCC discussions taking place these days, stressing that agriculture can provide multiple benefits ("Towards a work programme on agriculture"). These include not only mitigation and adaptation possibilities to climate change, but also development and food security. Quoting, "agriculture can potentially be part of the solution to climate change in ways that respect and support the development and food security requirements of developing countries".
The IPSRM conclusion is clear, and many will find it hard to disagree with it: "a substantial reduction of agriculture's impact would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products". But is this really the only way? Not all farming systems contribute to the figures mentioned above. Wouldn't it be equally interesting to make a clear difference between different kinds of agriculture, and to pay more attention to the type of agriculture that provides the benefits that the FAO paper mentions?