Annual investments of $260 billion required to halve agrifood emissions by 2030, achieve Net Zero by 2050: World Bank

New report claims twice the amount spend on agricultural subsidies; suggests India replace diesel irrigation pumps with solar
The emission intensity of India’s rice production is among the lowest in the world, emitting less than one kilogramme (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of rice produced. Photo: iStock
The emission intensity of India’s rice production is among the lowest in the world, emitting less than one kilogramme (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of rice produced. Photo: iStock

Replacing a quarter of India’s 8.8 million diesel irrigation pumps with solar pumps would cut agrifood emissions by 11.5 million tonnes per year. This is more than double the five million tonnes of global emissions that electric vehicles and solar panels prevented in 2020, according to a new World Bank report on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agrifood systems.

The report, Recipe for a Livable Planet: Achieving Net Zero Emissions in the Agrifood System, outlined actions that every country can take to make food supplies more secure, help the food system better withstand climate change and protect vulnerable people during this transition. These actions include the investments required to halve agrifood emissions to reach Net Zero goals.

The world’s agrifood system emits about 16 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) per year — about a third of all global emissions — and is projected to keep growing. 

“While the food on your table may taste good, it is also a hefty slice of the climate change emissions pie,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank senior managing director. 

The report outlined that the agrifood system is a huge, untapped source of low-cost climate change action. Unlike other sectors, it can have an outsized impact on climate change by reducing emissions and drawing carbon naturally from the atmosphere.

In India, 60 per cent of emissions from agrifood systems come from the farm gate, with enteric fermentation accounting for the largest proportion, primarily due to the inefficiency of the livestock sector.

In contrast, the emission intensity of India’s rice production is among the lowest in the world, emitting less than one kilogramme (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of rice produced. However, “emissions from this subsector are nevertheless considerable (4 per cent), since India is the second-largest rice producer globally, after China”.

The report also mentioned how the adoption of renewable energy in the agrifood system in India can drastically cut the sector’s emissions. As of December 2020, the country has deployed over 272,000 solar-powered irrigation systems. 

In fact, the report indicates that 80 per cent of the mitigation potential for agriculture in India could be achieved by adopting cost-saving measures alone.

The top ten agrifood system emitters are China, Brazil, India, United States, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russian Federation, Canada, Pakistan and Argentina. Of these, two (Canada and US) are high-income countries (HIC), one (Democratic Republic of Congo) is low-income country (LIC) and the rest are middle-income countries. 

The countries with the highest agrifood emissions tend to also be the most populous countries. Therefore, China and India rank high in total emissions but much lower in per capita emissions. 

Countries with the highest per capita agrifood system emissions differ from those with the highest total agrifood system emissions. HICs have the highest per capita agrifood system emissions, with LICs catching up quickly. 

HICs are the second biggest source of agrifood system emissions and have the highest per capita emissions. Moreover, some HICs are among the highest historical emitters; for example, US has emitted more than any other country on the planet in terms of cumulative emissions. 

“The high per capita emissions are primarily caused by US’ resource-intensive development model that hinged on fossil fuels for a relatively limited population,” it said.

India has roughly four times the population of US but emits only 30 per cent more GHG. 

“This is because cumulatively, India’s massive population emits more than less populated countries, but each individual emits much less than the global average per person. One reason is India’s low-carbon diets, with India having a larger share of vegetarians than any other country worldwide. However, another reason is India’s pervasive poverty and malnutrition levels, meaning that large shares of the population cannot afford to consume much,” according to the World Bank report.

Meanwhile, as a group, the top 10 emitters are responsible for 55 per cent of global agrifood emissions, while the top 20 emitters are responsible for 67 per cent.

“This is clearly a global problem, with countries in the top 10 encompassing four continents,” said the report. 

The report found that the payoffs for investing in cutting agrifood emissions are much bigger than the costs. Annual investments will need to increase to $260 billion a year to cut in half agrifood emissions by 2030 and reach Net Zero emissions by 2050. 

“Twice as much money is spent yearly on agricultural subsidies, many of which harm the environment. While cutting wasteful subsidies can finance some of this investment, additional financing is essential to get to Net Zero,” it said. 

Recognising that countries will meet their climate goals in different ways, the report identified different solutions to choose from:

  • High-income countries can lead the way by giving more support to low- and middle-income countries so they can adopt low-emission farming methods and technologies, including technical assistance for forest conservation programmes that generate high-integrity carbon credits. 
    High-income countries can also shift subsidies away from high-emitting food sources. This would reveal their full price and help make low-emission food options cheaper in comparison.
  • Middle-income countries have an outsized role to play by curbing up to three-quarters of global agrifood emissions through greener practices — such as reducing emissions from livestock and rice, investing in healthy soils, and cutting food loss and waste — and using land more efficiently. 
    One-third of the world’s opportunities to reduce agrifood emissions relate to sustainable land use in middle-income countries. 
  • Low-income countries can chart a different way forward by avoiding the mistakes made by richer countries and seizing climate-smart opportunities for greener and more competitive economies. 

Preserving and restoring forests would promote sustainable economic development in low-income countries, given that more than half of their agrifood emissions come from clearing forests to produce food.

Making these investments would lead to more than $4 trillion in benefits, from improvements in human health, food and nutrition security, better quality jobs and profits for farmers, to more carbon retained in forests and soils. 

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