What does net zero mean for agriculture?

Different greenhouses gases require different pathways to reach net-zero emissions. The agriculture, forestry, and other land use sector emits a higher share of non-carbon dioxide gases compared to other sectors. According to the IPCC, it can reduce its emissions at a slower rate than sectors mainly emitting CO2. We outline the greenhouse gases in the sector, beyond carbon, and consider their specific reduction pathways.

Different greenhouse gases require different pathways to reach net-zero emissions, as do different economic sectors. We explain the different greenhouse gases that make up emissions in the agriculture, forestry, and other land use sector, and consider their specific reduction pathways.

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon dioxide (CO2) and fossil-based emissions should be reduced to net zero by approximately 2050. Non-CO2 GHGs such as methane and nitrous oxide should reach net zero at a later time, in the second half of the century.

As the agriculture, forestry, and other land use (AFOLU) sector has a higher share of non-CO2 and biogenic gases in its overall GHG profile, it is scientifically acknowledged that this sector reduces its emissions at a slower rate than sectors mainly emitting CO2. The sector’s significant carbon removal potential can also compensate for a larger amount of residual emissions compared to non-AFOLU sectors.

We anticipate that governments and companies will increasingly distinguish between net-zero (and decarbonization) targets for CO2 versus non-CO2 GHGs, versus GHGs as a whole, reflecting their different reduction pathways.

As decarbonization targets can refer to different emissions scopes and GHG types, this may add to consumer confusion. Moreover, we are already seeing ambiguous use of green claims from some companies, as well as the first regulatory efforts to reduce this issue.

Where to go from here

  • Elizabeth Lunik

    Senior F&A Climate analyst
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  • Claudia Cammack

    Analyst - Food & Agribusiness
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  • Marjan van Riel

    Strategist RaboResearch F&A, global lead climate/sustainability
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