Brazil’s farms are major, global producers of beef, soybeans, sugarcane, coffee, rice, and more. Yet they’re also major producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
Two new resources aim to reduce the emissions intensity of Brazil’s agricultural sector. Today, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol launches the Agricultural Guidance and Emissions Calculation Tool, which will help Brazilian crop and livestock producers measure their greenhouse gas emissions at the farm level. By taking stock of the full emissions from their operations, farm managers can identify major emissions sources, develop reduction plans, and eventually, mitigate their climate impact.
To comprehend how important these new resources are for agricultural companies—and for Brazil as a whole—it’s important to understand the country’s evolving farming landscape.
The Greenhouse Gas Impacts of Brazil’s Agriculture
Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter, largely due to the impacts of agriculture. Agricultural emissions increased 20 percent from 2005-2010 and now account for more than one-third of the national total. Without interventions, they’re on track to grow another 18 percent by 2030.
The country’s farms also drive another emissions source— land use change. Brazil has lost 36 million hectares of forest over the last 12 years, mainly due to forest-clearing for cattle-ranching and other agricultural activities. While tree loss has declined in the country in recent years, deforestation still accounted for 22 percent of Brazil’s emissions in 2010.
Brazil’s forest loss (shown above, in pink) far exceeds its forest gain (shown above, in purple) over the past 12 years. Credit: Global Forest Watch
Reducing Agriculture’s Greenhouse Gas Footprint
These greenhouse gas impacts prompted the Brazilian government to create the National Plan for Low Carbon Emissions in Agriculture, colloquially known as the “ABC Plan.” Enacted in 2010, the ABC Plan offers incentives for sustainable agriculture, such as by providing lines of credit to farmers who adopt less greenhouse gas-intensive practices. It also aims to eliminate illegal deforestation and encourage research on climate-resilient crops, among other initiatives.
The problem was, government officials lacked a mechanism for tracking actual emissions reductions on individual farms. Unlike emissions from other sectors—such as energy or industry—agricultural emissions are notoriously difficult to measure. They’re highly influenced by environmental conditions like soil moisture and temperature. And in other cases, farming activities—such as reduced tillage and planting trees—may not reduce emissions immediately.
This lack of understanding also stymies greenhouse gas management by larger producers and agribusinesses. For example, only one-quarter of agricultural companies targeted by the CDP’s climate change questionnaire actually reported their greenhouse gas emissions..
New Resources for Measuring and Managing Agricultural Emissions
That’s where the new resources come in. Developed in partnership with Embrapa and Unicamp—and with the input of more than 100 experts from businesses, academia, NGOs, and government agencies—the guidance and calculation tool will allow Brazil’s agricultural companies to more accurately measure their emissions. They will also allow government officials to track the emissions impacts of Brazil’s national policies, including the ABC Plan. The guidance offers an emissions accounting framework for all companies with agricultural operations—whether they produce animals or plants for food, fiber, biofuels, drugs, or other purposes. The calculation tool drills down into specific practices and emissions-intensive subsectors like soy, corn, cotton, wheat, rice, sugar cane, and cattle. And both include methodologies for measuring and reporting land use change emissions.
With better measurement data in hand, companies will be able to:
Understand operational and reputational risks associated with their emissions;
Identify emissions-reduction opportunities, set reduction targets, and track performance;
Improve accountability and reputation through public disclosure of GHG emissions; and
Reap emissions-reduction co-benefits, such as energy conservation, increased productivity, and improved soil and water quality.
With the right tools, Brazil’s farms and ranches can start shrinking their greenhouse gas footprints—for the good of the planet and their own bottom lines.
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