Opinion: Energy agency report has consequences for agricultural producers

A recent report suggests that increasing soil carbon levels is one way to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) widely publicized report on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to achieve global targets further bolsters the case that more needs to be done in agriculture to combat climate change

Producers, as the report notes, can’t be excluded from that effort. 

Released last month, the report lists 400 actions that will be needed to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, an ambitious goal set by world leaders in Europe and the United States. 

In broad terms, greenhouse gases from all sources have to drop to achieve these ambitious climate targets.

Already experts and environmentalists are warning the international community and individual countries, including Canada, are failing to match rhetoric with actions to reduce emissions.

The recommendation that got the most attention, rightfully so in Canada, was the call to end new investments in coal mines as well as in oil and gas wells. 

Other calls of note involved eliminating the internal combustion engine from passenger vehicles by 2035 and significantly increasing the deployment of wind and solar energy. 

Taken as a whole, the report is yet another glass of cold water thrown at anyone still sleeping on the serious efforts needed to fight climate change. 

Of course, agriculture has a role to play in the fight, and the authors of the report know it. The industry is a distant second, but still second, to the energy sector in accounting for the world’s total GHG emissions. 

Increasing soil carbon levels is one way to limit emissions, the report’s authors say.

In March, Canada began drafting regulations for a carbon market that would involve off-set credit for “enhanced soil organic carbon.” 

Protocols for this will look at the “adoption of sustainable agricultural land management activities to reduce emissions and enhance carbon sequestration in soils.” 

It is a good sign Canada is already developing these protocols, but the efforts in agriculture to fight climate change cannot stop here. 

The IEA says non-CO2 emissions from livestock, along with other agricultural emissions, “might be more difficult to mitigate given the link between livestock production and nitrous oxide and methane emissions.”

Technological developments, including changes to animal feed, could help reduce emissions, the authors say, but still, “it may be necessary to use afforestation to offset these emissions entirely.”

Another way to off-set those emissions suggested by the authors? Reducing demand for livestock products. 

The IEA doesn’t suggest people stop eating meat, or hamburgers, however. 

Instead, it suggests that reducing meat consumption in households with the highest levels of per capita consumption to the global average level of consumption would significantly reduce GHG emissions, more so if there is an expected, corresponding drop in the amount of feed and pasture used.

Here, too, there is already some work being done in Canada. It’s expected the carbon market will allow credit to be gained from livestock feed management, avoiding grassland conversion.

For what it’s worth, lean meats are still considered a good source of protein in Canada’s Food Guide, despite some calls for red meat consumption to decrease. 

While much of the attention in the report was paid to its implications for the energy sector, the consequences of fighting climate change are equally as real for those in agriculture. Drastic actions will be needed within the industry.

The protocols being developed for the carbon market, and the investments made by Canada in its recent budget, are a good start but efforts to beat climate change will continue to hinge on the world’s ability to react accordingly to reports such as this one. 

About the author


D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.



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