Agricultural production is both strongly affected by and a major contributor to climate change, accounting for a quarter of total global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). Agriculture receives around US$600 billion per year worldwide in government support. However, no rigorous quantification of the impact of this support on GHG emissions has been available until now.
We find that while over the years, government support has incentivized the development of high-emission farming systems, that support only has a small impact in terms of inducing additional global GHG emissions from agricultural production. Substantially reducing GHG emissions from agriculture while safeguarding food security thus requires a more comprehensive revamping of existing support to agriculture and food consumption.
This article focuses on the implications of current agricultural support policies for GHG emissions. It applies a rigorous model-based analysis of the impacts of incentives on agricultural outputs and emissions. This analysis provides an opportunity to consider all the influences —impacts on overall output, differences in incentives across countries and commodities, as well as differences in farm technologies and practices used for production.
The emission intensity of agricultural production
There is a clear association between income levels and emission intensity, with the intensity for beef more than twice as high in the group of developing and emerging economies than in high-income, developed countries.
The impact of agricultural support on GHG emissions
Coupled subsidies stimulate agricultural output and emissions, while agricultural trade interventions reduce emissions (as compared with a situation without these interventions)
The importance of efficiency improvements for reducing emissions
While many have criticized current subsidy programs as contributing to global warming, our results suggest that simply abolishing current programs could, in fact, lead to slightly higher emissions.
This article was written as part of work undertaken for the Food and Land Use Coalition and a World Bank project on the “Environmental Impacts of Agricultural Support: Aligning Food Security and Climate Protection Objectives.”