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CLIMATE CHANGES AND SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: CHALLENGES FOR

AGRICULTURE

Summary:

During last decades, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been increased.
Estimates are showing that the agriculture sector, forestry and use of the arable land (other land use)
(AFOLU) emits less than a quarter of total anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases globally and in
this way endangers resources on which it directly depends. Observing from the point of the European
Union, agriculture emits 436.7 million tons of CO2 equivalents, corresponding to 9.8% of total
greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, agricultural production is accompanied by the creation of
residues, whose amount often exceeds the weight of the main product, which can be used as a source of
renewable energy. About 25% of the harvest residues can be used for energy purposes, without
compromising the population food safety , nor adversely affecting the fertility of the land. Bearing in
mind the strict EU goals planned to be achieved by 2020 in the energy and environmental sectors, thus
reduced greenhouse gas emissions adapted to emerging climate change represents a key challenge for
agriculture.

Sustainable management of natural resources in agricultural production provides productivity similar to


conventional crop cultivation techniques, in line with high energy efficiency, production stability and
reduced negative impact on the environment. In this sense, the further development of renewable
energy from agricultural biomass and the introduction of low input systems such as organic production
fully contribute to the establishment of a balance between sustainable production and consumption of
food, energy and natural resources.

The aim of this paper is to point out on the consequences of the harmful effects of modern agriculture
on the environment, but also on the fact that agriculture can offer solutions to the challenges of climate
change.

Key words: climate change, agriculture, renewable energy, organic agriculture.

INTRODUCTION

Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen and other oxides naturally are formed and exist in the atmosphere,
but their enormous increase in the last 150 years represents the result of human activity. The growth of
the concentrations of these gases changes the composition of the earth's atmosphere, contributing to
the air warming and global climate change. According to the fourth report of the International Climate
Protection Panel (2007), during the period 1970 - 2004, global GHG emissions increased by 70%; more
precisely from 28.7 GtCO2-eq to 49 GtCO2eq /yr, while 24% of the total has been increased in the
period after 1990.
The largest increase in global GHG emissions between 1970 and 2004 was the result of the energy
sector's activity (an increase of 145%). The growth of direct emissions in this period from traffic sector is
120%, from the industry sector 65%, while the level of emissions caused by the land purpose changing
and its intensive processing increased by 40% (IPCC, 2007). Between 1970 and 1990, direct emissions
from agriculture grew by 27%, and, thanks to efforts at the international community, their level
remained about the same as in 1990.

Inadequate management of natural resources led to their impoverishment and reduced the future
potential of food production. Very rapid deforestation on a global scale and conversion of forest land
into agricultural one, as well as the conversion of agricultural land into construction terrain contributed
to the reduction of forest and agricultural land potential for carbon dioxide storing. On the other hand,
rice and livestock production are considered as the main methane emitters, while the application of
mineral fertilizers in agricultural production is considered as a very important source of nitrogen-sub
oxides. Bearing in mind that one kilogram of methane has a 25 times greater effect on global warming
than a kilogram of carbon dioxide, and a kilogram of nitrogen oxide has a 298 times higher carbon
dioxide effect in global warming (IPCC, 2007), it can be concluded that emissions from agriculture
significantly contribute to climate change. According to the report of the International Climate
Protection Panel (2014), GHG emissions from agriculture account for about one fourth of total GHG
emissions net or 10-12 GtCO2eq / yr, with about 40-50% of total anthropogenic emissions of mats and
about 70% of total anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen-sub oxides (Ecosystems and Human Well-being
- Synthese).

Mitigation of climate change includes a series of activities designed to slow down or reduce the overall
effect of climate change. Among the many measures proposed, the most perspective is one related to
the use of renewable energy sources, as well as the introduction of low input agricultural systems, as
organic production is. The production of alternative fuel coming from agriculture creates a close
connection between energy policy, agricultural policy and environmental policy (Roljević et al., 2010).
For this reason, it is important that any move towards the production of alternative fuels aims to
support a positive development simultaneously reducing or eliminating existing pressure on biodiversity,
water and land (Roljević et al., 2011). On the other hand, organic farming contributes to reduced
consumption of fossil fuels and increases the possibility of storing carbon dioxide in the soil, which
contributes to the reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

GHG EMISSIONS FROM AGRICULTURE IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

In the European Union, agriculture is a very important sector both for the economy and ecology.
Primary, agriculture accounts for only 1.5% of gross domestic product, but represents the main source
of revenue for about 20% of the total population (Eurostat, 2015). In addition, agriculture uses about
40% of the EU's land resources and has a major impact on climate change.

Intensive agricultural production is characterized by high consumption of external inputs, which have a
very aggressive impact on the environment. The use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture, on the
one hand, is a strategic factor in achieving cultivated plants high yields, while, on the other hand,
cumulative effects significantly contribute to the changes in the soil, water and physical and chemical
properties of air. At EU-28 level, the total consumption of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers in 2015
was 11.4 and 1.1 million tons, i.e. 64 kg / ha and 6.3 kg / ha of nitrogen and phosphorus, while the sale
of pesticides amounted to around 400,000 tons of active substance (Eurostat, 2015).

Agriculture is one of the largest energy consumers, whether it is related to direct or indirect
consumption. At EU-28 level, energy consumption in agriculture accounts for 2.2% of total final energy
consumption, or 23.441 thousand tons of oil equivalents. On average, energy consumption is about
131.12 KgOE / ha (Eurostat, 2015).

Having in mind resources available and consumed, agriculture represents a very significant
environmental pollutant. Greenhouse gas emissions which are coming from agriculture, account for
around 436.7 million tons of CO₂ equivalent, representing in such a way 20% less than in 1990 (Eurostat,
2015). On the other hand, statistics show that the share of agriculture in total emissions is gradually
increasing and currently stands at 9.8%.

The most important gases contributing to the greenhouse effect and the warming of the atmosphere,
mostly come from agriculture, and are methane and nitrous oxide. Agriculture is the main source of
nitrogen sub oxide, as chemically active greenhouse gas, and it is estimated that it produces 70%
anthropogenic N2O emissions. According to the synthesis report "Ecosystems and Human Well-Being,
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment", the concentration of this gas increases at an annual rate of 0.22%.
Concerns about the emissions of nitrogen sub oxide are justified by the fact that in the atmosphere it
last for a long time as well as it has a high potential to accelerate climate change. According to data from
2015, N₂O emissions from agriculture amount to 184.79 million tons of CO₂ equivalents, representing
18.6% decrease comparing to 1990 (EEA, 2105). The industrialization of agriculture and its very intense
nature per unit area has affected the share of emissions of this gas from agriculture from 59% in 1990 to
78% in 2015 (EEA, 2015).

Methane (CH₄) is another important gas contributing to the greenhouse effect, and it is estimated that
40-50% of the total anthropogenic emissions of this gas are derived from agriculture.1 At the EU level,
agriculture produces 241.683 million tons of CO₂ equivalent, representing 53% of total emissions of this
gas at EU level 28. In the period 1990-2015, emissions of this gas coming from agriculture decreased by
21% (EEA, 2015).

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from
agriculture is less than 1% of the global anthropogenic emissions (US EPA, 2006b). Carbon dioxide
emissions from the agricultural sector in the territory of the European Union amount to 10.275 million
tons, which is 33% less compared to 1990 (EEA, 2015).

1
Ecosystems and Human Well-being – Synthese
Chart 1. CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O the agricultural sector emissions in EU 28 in the period 1990-2015.

Source: EEA database,[ Accessed October 19, 2017].

http://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/data-viewers/greenhouse-gases-viewer

Based on the data gathered, it can be said that agriculture contributes greatly to global warming
emitting a significant amount of two gases with a very strong heating potential. However, the sector of
agriculture represents one of the key sources of renewable energy - biomass. Biomass has long been
recognized as an adequate substitute for fossil fuels, whose enormous consumption in recent decades
has largely absorbed global warming. Biomass produced in agriculture provides a good raw material
base for the production of alternative fuels, which are less dangerous to the environment, making
agriculture more and more important as a branch that offers solutions to combat climate change.

POSSIBILITY OF REDUCING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS IN AGRICULTURE SECTOR

Although it is at the top of the list of the largest emitter of harmful gases, agriculture offers solutions to
mitigate further growth in GHG concentrations, primarily relating to sustainable landfill management
(which would increase the storage of atmospheric carbon) and the use of residues from primary
bioenergy production. In order to avoid the creation of sufficient food quantities by using arable crops
for growth for energy purposes, the use of by-products from agriculture, or already produced biomass,
is most acceptable. 2According to EU Directive 2003/30 / EC, article 2: "Biomass is defined as a
biodegradable part of products, waste or residues from agriculture, forest waste and waste related
industries, as well as biodegradable parts of industrial and urban waste". Biomass as a competitive fuel
can be used for the production of heat, electricity and liquid biofuels, directly or indirectly. The main
problem in the use of biomass is low energy value per unit of mass, and thus biomass is processed to
obtain a form suitable for transport and storage of biofuels (briquettes, biodiesel, bioethanol, biogas).

On a global level, total energy demand supplied from biomass is approximately 60 EJ, or 14% of total
energy (REN, 2016). According to IRENA estimation, total biomass supply worldwide could range from
97-147 EJ / yr by 2030. The total amount of energy derived from residues from agriculture and waste is
estimated at 38-45%, from energy crops to 34-39% of bio-energy, and 28% of forest residues (REmap
2030 Global Bioenergy Supply and Demand Projections, 2014). Therefore, agriculture will play a key role
for sustainable biomass supply and the development of the bioenergy sector in the future.

The European Union has significant potential for bioenergy production. Consequently, this community
future development is directed towards reducing the use of fossil fuels and the dominance of renewable
energy sources, whereby biomass develops into the most important source of renewable energy in the

2
Bekić Bojana, Roljević Svetlana, Filipović Vladimir (2013): "Agriculture and Environmental Protection", chapter in
the Monography "The state and possibilities for the development of sustainable agriculture and rural development
in the Danube Region", Institute for Agricultural Economics, Belgrade, pp. 58-90, ISBN : 978-86-6269-024-
21st century (Betsen and Felby, 2002). According to the European Environmental Assessment Agencies,
biomass-based agricultural products could meet 5.3% and 95.8 million Toe primary energy requirements
in the European Union by 2020, and by 2030, around 12% of the UAA could be spent on bioenergy
production ( European Environment Agency (2006): How much bioenergy can Europe produce without
harming the environment ?, Report).

In order to limit the growth of areas in which crops for energy purposes are produced, the EU
Parliament and Council adopted the Directive to reduce indirect land use change for biofuels and bio
liquids (EU) 2015/1513. Under this directive, the share of energy coming from biofuels produced from
cereals and other cultures rich in starch, sugar crops and oilseeds, and other main crops on the
agricultural surface, primarily for energy purposes, should not exceed 7% of final energy consumption in
turnover.

The agriculture sector contribution to the reduced GHG emissions is not reflected exclusively in the raw
material basis for the production of bioenergy. It is also very important to change the tendencies in the
management of agricultural systems, starting from the reduction of fossil fuels and emissions of harmful
gases in primary production. Organic farming is also among these systems of production.

Studies by numerous authors suggest that organic crop production requires lower energy consumption
than conventional. By studying the production cycle of 78 crops throughout Spain under the conditions
of conventional and organic production, Alonso and Guzman (2010) found that non-renewable energy
efficiency is higher in organic farming, while the consumption of this type of energy is lower. Pimentel et
al. (1983) found that 7.2 gJ ha-1 energy is consumed by breeding the wheat in the organic production
system, while 10.0 GJ of ha-1 energy is consumed in conventional production, which is almost 30%
higher. Similar studies were carried out by Vester et al. (1995) in the crop of barley spring crop and
found that 6.9-13.0 GJ ha-1 is consumed by cultivation in the organic production system, while
conventional production consumes 15.4-12.2 GJ ha-1. Summarizing the research results of a 21-year
study of agronomic and ecological performance of biodynamic, bioorganic and conventional farming
systems in Central Europe Mader et al. (2006) point out that energy consumption in organic systems is
reduced to up to 50%. However, the relationship between the energy consumed and the yield obtained
in organic and conventional production depends on crops (Pimentel et al., 1983).

On the other hand, some studies have shown that it is not possible to simultaneously achieve high net
energy and energy use. Lower net energy and higher energy use efficiency in organic, compared to
integrated farming systems have been established by Deike et al. (2008) as well as Dalgaard et al. (2001).
These results indicate that production systems need to be adapted to the pedo-climatic conditions of
the site, as well as crop requirements, in order to obtain stable yields and establish sustainable
production.

Conclusion
Agriculture contributes significantly to the greenhouse effect, and therefore to the climate change. On a
global scale, agriculture is broadcasting about one quarter of the total net greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the agriculture sector is at the same time one of the largest sources of renewable energy,
biomass, which is the reason why it is increasingly gaining importance as a branch that can contribute to
the mitigation of climate change.

In agriculture, the change in tendencies in the management of agricultural systems, which is moving
from high input to low input systems, is very important. Numerous studies have shown that low input
systems, such as organic production, consume less energy compared to high-investment systems, where
production systems need to be adapted to the peda-climatic conditions of the site, as well as crop
requirements in order to achieve stable and sustainable production.