Agriculture’s Role In Addressing Climate Change


Human activities are increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations. Evidence is growing that higher global temperatures, higher sea levels, and increased climatic variability, including changes in precipitation patterns and magnitudes, will result. These changes will affect agriculture by making some crop and animal production operations difficult or infeasible in their current locations. Slowing the rate of increase of atmospheric GHG concentrations will require efforts in every sector of the economy. Agriculture can make important contributions to these efforts, and can benefit by doing so. Agricultural practices that reduce or offset GHG emissions can increase farmer income, improve soil productivity and water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat.

Agriculture contributes approximately 7 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions, with nitrous oxide (N2O) accounting for 66 percent and methane (CH4) 34 percent of agricultural emissions.1 In addition to reducing these emissions, agriculture has opportunities to assist in offsetting emissions from other sectors. The agricultural sector can:

  • Store carbon in soils and plants;
  • Produce fuels and energy from biomass and animal waste to replace fossil fuels; and
  • Reduce CH4 and N2O emissions from livestock operations and agricultural lands.

This paper describes how the U.S. agricultural sector could take advantage of these opportunities.