Agriculture and climate change

Greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by about 13 percent from 1990, and in 2013 amounted to just over 8 percent of the Norwegian greenhouse gas emissions. A Project Group reviewing agriculture challenges in the face of climate change has concluded that, including emissions from transport, construction and land, the further potential for emission reduction from today and until 2030 is estimated to be near 20 percent.

According to the Project Group there are two main strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector: lower consumption volume and a change in composition of food consumption, and reducing emissions within the same production volume. 

Minister of Agriculture and Food Jon Georg Dale said that the Project Group report will be read with attention and is an important input for the government's continued work on climate change:

– The agriculture sector has already made significant cuts in their emissions, an impressive 13 percent since 1990. Furthermore, the report concludes that industry, through various measures, can cut as much as 20 percent by 2030. Demanding, yes; but an important goal to reach for. It is necessary to maintain momentum in the climate debate in the years to come. This report, together with other documentation, provides a solid fact base for political choice, Jon Georg Dale says. 

Norwegian wheat field.
Norwegian wheat field. Credit: Norwegian Agriculture Agency

The Project Group is convinced that the general contours of Norwegian climate policy for the agricultural sector capture important initiatives and priority areas as described in the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report. It is nevertheless clear that the current level of effort will fail to achieve the full potential for emission reductions and increased uptake rapidly enough. The measures listed in the report should be investigated further to find the cost of the measures, feasibility and relevant instruments. Once ready, more vigorous and targeted measures are required to ensure that Norwegian agriculture can continue to meet the Parliament's goal of food production nationwide, while Norwegian agriculture contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions both in its own sector and in other sectors of society. When we include reductions of emissions from transport, buildings and land, the further potential for emission reduction is estimated to be near 20 percent from today until 2030. 

The Project Group notes that Norwegian food production is a function of the national resource base, and that it is not possible to produce food without any greenhouse gas emissions. Biological processes in agriculture cannot be replaced in the same way as processes based on non-renewable raw materials and fossil-based production systems. 

Climate Action

The Project Group identifies two main strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector:

  • Changed volume and composition of food consumption 
  • Reduce emissions within the same production volume (optimize production) 

In addition, efforts must be made to reduce CO2 emissions from the use of soil and fossil energy in agriculture, is another of the Project Group's conclusions. Reduced production of red meat in Norway will reduce Norwegian emissions, but this could at the same time lead to increased emissions in other countries, if, presuming stable consumption, a national shortfall is compensated by imports. 

The Project Group reviewed existing climate measures in Norwegian agriculture, and collected and assessed new knowledge. 

The role of forests 

Another great potential for national climate action is to exploit forest resources. In line with the recommendations of the IPCC, the Project Group believes that the role of forests as a carbon sink can be substantially improved by targeted reforestation and other measures that promote forest productivity. Renewable energy and raw materials from the forest can displace fossil fuel emissions in other sectors. The use of biofuels in the transport sector, the use of bioenergy and building materials in the building sector and the use of biochar as a reducing agent in the industry, are examples of this. Many of the scenarios that underlie IPCC low emission vectors assume negative emissions from approximately 2050, and photosynthesis remains the basis of all hitherto known carbon negative technologies. Negative emissions can be achieved by large-scale reforestation, storage of biochar in the soil or by the use of bioenergy combined with capture and storage of CO2. 

Norwegian landscape.
Norwegian landscape. Credit: Colourbox

Adapting to a changed climate 

The Project Group points out that climate change can provide new opportunities for production that farmers will exploit, but also that the change will result in great uncertainty. Climate change could also provide new opportunities for the forest production industry and society to exploit, but forestry will face tough challenges when production is to be adapted, not least because forestry by nature must aim at a long term economic cycle, as detailed in the report. Development of both adaptive technology, research-based and practical agronomy and forestry knowledge is a prerequisite for success in the face of increasing challenges. The Project Group considers that Norway probably yet is better equipped than most countries to cope with this, because we have wide access to resources, a solid knowledge base and a well-organized management. 

Further research required 

Climate challenges in the agricultural sector are complex, and the report identifies a considerable knowledge gap. The present development where new research, technology and knowledge is utilized is among the most important measures that can be implemented to reduce the climate impact of agriculture. The Project Group notes that in research which includes climate impacts and adaptations in primary industries, there should be special emphasis on the development of knowledge about issues such as carbon storage in soils, methane and nitrous oxide emissions, better economic calculations of costs of various climate measures in agriculture, while at the same time keeping in view the consequences that climate measures may have on food production. 

The Project Group unanimously endorses the content of the report.