Agriculture and Livestock Remain Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Laura Reynolds | May 08, 2013

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agricultural sector totaled 4.69 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) equivalent in 2010, an increase of 13 percent over 1990 emissions.1 (See Figure 1.) By comparison, global CO₂ emissions from transport totaled 6.76 billion tons that year, and emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.48 billion tons.2

Growth in agricultural production between 1990 and 2010 outpaced growth in emissions by a factor of 1.6, demonstrating increased energy efficiency in the agriculture sector.3

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) maintains country-specific data for annual GHG emissions from agriculture. These data measure nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane—the three most common gases emitted in agriculture. Methane is generally produced when organic materials—such as crops, livestock feed, or manure—decompose anaerobically (without oxygen).Methane accounts for 49.8 percent of total agricultural emissions.5 Enteric fermentation—the digestion of organic materials by livestock—is the largest source of methane emissions and of agricultural emissions overall.6

Figure 1


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