Organic agriculture, part of the solution to the climate crisis
Farming is a significant contributor to climate change. Agriculture is responsible for about 10% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU. However, applying the right farming techniques can make a difference. Organic farming practices can reduce GHG emissions, increase soil carbon sequestration and at the same time provide benefits for adaptation by making farming systems more resilient to the effects of climate change.
Climate change is already making farming more challenging with an increase in extreme weather events, such as regular and stronger floods and droughts. Harvest losses, biodiversity loss, other irredeemable damage to natural resources and the destruction of farmers’ economic viability are among the most serious effects.
On the other hand, the farming sector is a significant contributor to climate change. Agriculture is directly responsible for about 10% of EU’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, when taking into account indirect emissions food production is responsible to up to one third of GHG emissions at the global level. In the EU, these indirect emissions are linked to imports of vegetable proteins for animal feed contributing to land use change or deforestation in other countries, GHG emissions from synthetic fertilizers production and transport, to name a few. Agriculture is also the largest contributor of non-carbon dioxide GHGs, such as methane, especially through livestock production.
Reducing GHG emissions from agriculture should be done in synergy with actions to reduce all negative impacts of industrial farming on soils, water and biodiversity. Developing farming systems and agroecological approaches that deliver positive results on all fronts should be a priority to avoid trade-offs.
Food production is a complex system. In a world where 80% of agricultural land is used for the production of meat or animal feed and where 30% of food produced goes to waste, the approach to reduce emissions from agriculture should be a systemic one. However, applying the right farming techniques can already make a difference. Organic farming also provides benefits for climate change adaptation and for soil carbon sequestration.
How agriculture can best mitigate and adapt to climate change is the subject of several research projects. The first findings are clear: organic farming that includes some optimised techniques is best equipped to counter climate change. Farmers taking part in the SOLMACC project used some techniques. You can see their findings in the SOLMACC videos.
IFOAM Organics Europe…
- Advocates for addressing all negative impacts of agriculture on the environment, including GHG emissions and biodiversity, in a holistic way, and for including organic and other agroecological approaches in EU policies as part of the solution to combat climate change;
- Promotes climate friendly best practices in food processing and farming;
- Set up a task force of its members to reflect on how the organic movement can further improve its contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation;
- Contributes to research activities;
- Led the SOLMACC project, introducing four optimised farming techniques to help farms become both more resilient to the effects of climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.
The European Green Deal is the Commission’s roadmap for making the EU’s economy sustainable and making Europe carbon neutral by 2050. This will happen by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all.
To make its EU Green Deal a reality, the Commission released its Farm to Fork Strategy in May 2020. This strategy wants to the EU to come to a healthier and more sustainable food system. It clearly recognises organic farming as an environmentally-friendly practice that needs to be further developed. The Commission stated that it will boost the development of EU organic farming and aims for 25% of total farmland to be farmed according to organic practices.
The Commission also seeks to promote “carbon farming” and actions to increase soil carbon sequestration.
In October 2014, the European Council adopted an overall target of 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030 (on 1990 levels). To make this a reality, the European Commission developed new proposals for the EU climate and energy package for 2030. This package consists of three pillars:
- The Emissions Trading System (ETS), which covers emissions for the energy sector, with a target of 43% reduction compared to 2005 levels
- The Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR), which covers national emissions from transport, buildings, waste and non-CO2 emissions from agriculture (methane and nitrous oxide), with an average target of 30% emissions reduction compared to 2005 levels
- The land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) proposal, which covers CO2 emissions and removals from forest management, afforestation, reforestation, deforestation, cropland and grazing land.
The Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) and Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) proposals apply to agriculture activities. The European Commission adopted these as Regulations in 2018.
As LULUCF is a carbon sink in the EU, mainly due to the way forest management emissions and removals are calculated, the Commission assessed options for integrating the LULUCF emissions and removals into the EU climate and energy framework 2030. After an intense debate with strong concerns voiced over the environmental integrity of the climate package, the European Commission decided to maintain a separate LULUCF pillar, with a certain level of flexibility. This allows Member States to benefit from removals in the LULUCF sector to comply with their ESR target.
The LULUCF Regulation foresees that the EU land and forests carbon sink is maintained, according to the “no debit” rule. But the flexibility given to Member States with a high share of emissions in the agriculture sector could mean that little action is expected from this sector beyond existing policies.
IFOAM EU position paper on the Effort Sharing Regulation and Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) regulation
Publishing date: February 2017
Organic farming, climate change mitigation and beyond: reducing the environmental impacts of EU agriculture
Publishing date: 2016
SOLMACC – Organic farmers countering climate change
SOLMACC (Strategies for Organic and Low input farming to Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change) was about demonstrating that farming can be climate-friendly by applying a combination of optimised organic farming practices to respond to climate change. It seeked to promote wider adoption of innovative practices that eventually can contribute to reaching the EU’s climate change mitigation and adaptation objectives in the food and farming sector. Across Europe, 12 demonstration farms were selected with farmers adjusting their agriculture techniques over the course of five years under close scientific monitoring and supervision. The objective was to significantly reduce farms’ greenhouse gas emissions compared to average farms under similar climatic conditions. Modelling allowed for predictions about the long-term impact on soil, biodiversity and climate to be made with the project’s results used to develop transferable approaches for other farms, be they organic or conventional.
See how agroforestry, optimised tillage, optimised crops rotation and optimised nutrient management improved farms’ adaptation capacity. You can also read a summary of the SOLMACC project in the Layman report.
Are you a policy-maker? You might want to read the policy recommendations: Increasing climate change mitigation and adaptation of the agriculture and food sector.
Watch the videos
- Summary and results
- Policy recommendations
- Practical manual for climate-friendly practices: Part 1 and Part 2 (available in other languages on SOLMACC’s website)
SOLMACC was supported by
The work of IFOAM Organics Europe on this topic is co-financed by the LIFE programme of the European Union, under the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME). This page only reflects the views of the authors and its sole responsibility lies with IFOAM Organics Europe. The EASME is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information provided.