The rise and fall of greenhouse gas emissions

The EU foresees in its report on agricultural perspectives 2017-2030 the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in agricultural activity, mainly due to new technologies. But, for now, in Spain continues the increase in general and also in agriculture and livestock

One of the most questioned aspects of the agrarian sector is its contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which currently represent 10% of total emissions. The report of agricultural perspectives of the European Union (EU) 2017-2030 has given a boost to the sector, anticipating the decrease of GHG emissions in agricultural activity from here to 2030, mainly due to new technologies that reduce the use of inputs and increase their effectiveness. These estimates are consistent with the OECD-FAO Report on Agricultural Perspectives 2018-2027, which foresees a slowdown in the growth of global food demand, despite the continuous improvements in productivity that are expected to be generated in this period.

According to the EU Report, carbon dioxide emissions will drop by 1,5% compared to those generated by 2008. Other substances such as methane and nitrous oxide come directly from livestock, an activity responsible for 72% of GHGs in the primary sector according to this report, and 66% in the Spanish case, according to data from the Ministry of Ecological transition below. Methane has its origin in an 85% of the digestion of ruminants. This report estimates that ammonia, related in an 90% with this sector and an 80% linked to manure, will reduce the 10% The handling of mineral fertilizers also has an influence, but minor, representing only one fifth of the total.

The most noteworthy of these data is that it foresees that the world productions will continue to increase despite the slowdown in the growth of demand. This implies that only the foreseeable development of technologies and their increasing application, especially in less developed countries, will reduce the impact of agriculture on climate change. Despite these positive assessments, the latest data is not so much and, for the moment, in Spain the increase in emissions continues, both in general and in agriculture. According to the Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) prepared by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and that will be sent to the European Commission, the contribution of agriculture in 2017 was a 2,9% higher than the previous year. All this in a context in which the total emissions in our country exceeded 338 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; that is, an increase of 4,4% with respect to 2016, the biggest year-on-year rebound since 2002.

GHG emissions from the livestock sector increased the 1,7% in our country due to the increase of 2,7% in the number of beef cattle and 3,8% in pigs. But it was not only the livestock sector that brought this indicator up, also the agricultural activity favored an increase of 5,4% due to the growth in the application of inorganic fertilizers. Also agricultural, forestry and fishing machinery, which represent 4% of total national emissions, saw their contributions increased by 6,2% during 2017.

As if that were not enough, the forestry sector stopped contributing to the removals of CO2, with a drop of 2,6% of them. In spite of everything, it was the electricity generation associated with the burning of coal and combined cycles that was mainly responsible for the increase in emissions in Spain.

In short, given the closeness of 2030, it is hard to believe that the GHG emissions reduction plans proposed by the Commission, OECD and FAO can be met, when today, the highest growth of emissions in the last sixteen has occurred. years, at least in Spain.

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