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Agriculture: can we lower emissions whilst feeding the world?

3 episodes
  • 1
    How much greenhouse gases are emitted by agriculture?
  • 2
    Agriculture consumes little energy, but emits a lot of greenhouse gases
  • 3
    Agriculture: greenhouse gas in soils is a promising solution
Épisode 1/3
Anaïs Marechal, science journalist
On February 23rd, 2022
3 mins reading time
Véronique Bellon
Véronique Bellon
Director of Institut convergences agriculture numérique

Key takeaways

  • Worldwide, the agricultural sector is responsible for 23% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – a sum of 12 GtCO2 equivalent/year.
  • Reduction of GHG emissions, carbon storage in soil and energy production are criteria that could be targeted by the agricultural sector. In France, this would lead to a 46% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 2050.
  • Technology is not the solution, but it is part of it. It can help detect problems early: optical sensors for plant health, connected insect traps to detect pests, or sensors that detect animal movement to monitor their health.
  • While, until now, digital technologies have focused on economic gains and comfort, which are the main concerns of farmers, their contribution and impact on climate change are now becoming increasingly important.
Épisode 2/3
Anaïs Marechal, science journalist
On February 23rd, 2022
3 mins reading time
Nicolas Tonnet 2
Nicolas Tonnet
Energy, biomass and innovation expert at Agence de la transition écologique (ADEME)

Key takeaways

  • The agricultural sector consumes 4.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent per year in France, largely used for agricultural machinery (75%). Livestock buildings and heated greenhouses are the other two high energy consumption activities, representing overall 3% of France's total energy consumption.
  • Technical modifications can reduce the energy footprint of farms: insulating greenhouses, rethinking their layout to maximise solar gain and limit heat loss, equipping livestock buildings with energy recovery systems, etc.
  • In projections where the best current technologies are massively deployed, energy savings could achieve 26% by 2050. They could reach as much as 43% in the most “proactive” scenarios.
  • Moreover, farms account for 83% of wind energy production, as well as 13% of photovoltaic solar energy, mainly installed on livestock buildings.
Épisode 3/3
Anaïs Marechal, science journalist
On February 23rd, 2022
3 mins reading time
Claire Chenu 2
Claire Chenu
Professor at AgroParisTech and Member of the scientific and technical committee of the 4 for 1000 initiative

Key takeaways

  • Increasing the carbon stock in soils reduces atmospheric carbon in the form of CO2, an abundant GHG. Thanks to organic matter, soils are one of the planet's main carbon reservoirs.
  • Several agricultural practices help to increase carbon input into soil: maintaining a vegetation cover between crops, extending the life of temporary grasslands, grassing between the rows of vines and fruit trees, etc.
  • Carbon losses are linked to soil erosion and, above all, mineralisation, a process during which carbon reverts to its gaseous CO2 form.
  • Modelling on a European scale estimates that the increase in carbon stocks could offset 5 to 12% of agricultural CO2 emissions.
  • In addition, these agricultural practices have other benefits. Reducing ploughing has little effect on GHG emissions, but the practice is very beneficial to biodiversity and soil health.

Contributors

Anaïs Marechal

Anaïs Marechal

science journalist

Anaïs Marechal has a PhD in Geoscience. She first became interested in earthquakes, which she studied in research laboratories and in the field for several years. In 2017, she decided to train in science journalism at ESJ Lille. Since then, she has been working as a freelance journalist for various general, specialised and professional print media where she covers climate, health and new technologies.