Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture reached an all time high in 2014, at 5.25 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year (Gt CO2eq yr-1). The data released by FAO (13 June 2016) in the FAOSTAT Emissions database to the year 2014, are the first to be made available to the public and scientific community. They form the base of a new collaborative report on agriculture and GHG emissions by the University of Minnesota, written together with FAO, the CGIAR system and various universities.
The new FAO data indicate that in 2014 methane and nitrous oxide emissions from crop and livestock management remain strong and may begin to grow faster than fossil fuel emissions, reversing decadal trends since the 1960s, during which fossil fuel emissions had grown several times faster than agriculture.
Emissions from agriculture represented only about 14.6% of the 2014 total carbon emissions from fossil fuels, but their growth rate compared to emissions from fossil fuels was more than double in 2014, at 1.3% annually. While global emissions from fossil fuels are expected decrease in 2015 for the first time in recent history, this is unlikely to happen for agriculture.
Historically, emissions from fossil fuels grew much faster than those in agriculture. Emissions from fossil fuels in 2014 represented a tripling of emissions since 1961, while those from agriculture nearly doubled in 2014 with respect to 1961. Since 1990 (reference year for the Kyoto Protocol) fossil fuels emissions increased by 60%, while those from agriculture grew from 1961 to 2014 by only 15%.
Thus the emissions trends observed in 2014 may represent a reversal between fossil fuels and agriculture emissions that should be monitored closely in coming years, as the world energy mix continues to decouple from carbon through increased use of renewable energy sources. By contrast, emissions from agriculture will continue to depend for many more years on crop and livestock processes with inherently higher carbon intensities.