Most of India’s export emissions from cattle and sheep, import emissions from oil crops: Study

India’ emissions from agricultural imports went up 39 per cent during 2004-2017

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 06 May 2022

Emissions from India’s agricultural exports increased 13 per cent to 150 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-eq) during 2004-2017, according to a new study.

The emissions from the country’s agricultural imports have gone up by 39 per cent to roughly 180 Mt CO2-eq during the same period, the analysis published in the journal Science found.

Its emission intensity [the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic activity] from imports is a little over 10 kilogram CO2-eq per dollar of agricultural products traded, according to the report. This is slightly higher than the estimated exports of 8 kg CO2-eq per dollar of agricultural products traded.

Export emissions were from trading rice, wheat, cattle, sheep and goats as well as wood. Import emissions were from vegetables and fruits, soybean, oil palm, oilseeds and wood, according to the findings.

When a country produces and exports or imports and consumes a product, the related emissions are ‘embodied' in the export and import, respectively, Steven J Davis, professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine and senior author of the study, told Down to Earth (DTE). 

“Indian exports of cattle embody substantial emissions,” the expert said. “It is also importing a fair amount of emissions embodied in oil palm and other oil crops.”

Land-use emissions from agricultural and land-use change represent roughly 25 per cent of the net anthropogenic greenhouse emissions in recent years, an earlier study by Davis’ team showed.

The major greenhouse contributors include methane and nitrous oxide from crops and livestock, and carbon dioxide from land-use change, the report noted.

“These land-use emissions are substantial enough to threaten international climate goals even if fossil fuel emissions are drastically reduced,” the scientists wrote in their new study.

Determining trade-related global land use can help guide and coordinate more effective mitigation efforts, they added.

Using a model, the team attributed land-use emissions from production to consumption in 141 world regions in 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014 and 2017. 

They also collected trade data, production-based estimates of land-use emissions and agricultural products.

Between 2004 and 2017, roughly one billion hectares of agricultural land (both cropland and pasture) were used for traded agricultural products, representing around 22 per cent of agricultural land worldwide.

Land-use emissions from international trade ranged between 4.5 and 5.8 billion metric tonnes of CO2-eq per year, accounting for 27 per cent of the emissions, according to the study.

Traded products such as cereals — rice, wheat, maize and other grains — and oil crops like soybeans, oil palm and other oil seeds represent 26-35 per cent of embodied land use and 45 to 54 per cent of embodied emissions, the study pointed out.

Animal products such as cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken and raw milk make up 55-67 per cent of land use but only 14-19 per cent of emissions, according to the report. “Vegetables and fruits account for less than 8 per cent of embodied land and emissions.”

Major exporters of agricultural products were Brazil, Indonesia, Argentina, Australia and Canada. These nations cater to consumers in the United States, Europe, Japan and more recently, China, the study noted.

Tropical forests in Brazil and peatlands in Indonesia, for example, are often cleared to support exports of agricultural commodities to more affluent and populous regions such as Europe, the US, China and Japan, the researchers wrote in their study.

Brazil, Indonesia and Argentina produce large quantities of commodities like soybeans, cattle and oil palm for export, adding substantial emissions due to land-use change, Davis highlighted.

“Developed nations are importing much of those commodities,” the expert said. Thus, consumers in places like Europe, the United States and China have an important role in the emissions and land-use change occurring in Brazil, Indonesia and Argentina, he added.

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