COP15: Efforts to curb agriculture's climate impacts threaten further unrest

Environment ministers gathered in Montreal this week for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15). Hailed as the most significant gathering on biodiversity in a decade, the event aims to establish a Paris Agreement-style framework to protect ecosystems and tackle climate change. While these events have often focused on the harm being done to the planet by fossil fuels, policymakers are increasingly turning their attention to another major climate change contributor: agriculture.

Indeed, a study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that just under 90% of global deforestation is driven by agricultural expansion. The IPCC estimates that agriculture is directly responsible for up to 8.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, with a further 14.5% coming from agriculture-related land use change.

This is reflected in our Industry Risk Analytics dataset, where agriculture stands out as the highest risk sector for both deforestation and CO2 emissions from energy use. Several of the world’s leading agricultural exporters, including Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria, are among the worst offenders.

But recent efforts to tackle agriculture’s environmental impacts have fuelled an uptick in civil unrest. In the Netherlands, government plans to cut agricultural nitrogen emissions in half by 2030 – a move that would lead to the closure of around 10,000 Dutch farms – sparked protests in which local farmers blocked highways and prevented access to food distribution centres. Farmers in Greece, France and Italy launched similar protests, caused by soaring fuel and fertiliser costs.

The likelihood of further unrest will be a key consideration for the policymakers working to tackle the agricultural sector’s mounting climate impacts. But with agriculture set to be one of the biggest victims of increasing climate volatility, failing to strike the right balance could have disastrous impacts for global food security.

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Jess Middleton

Senior Data Journalist

Torbjorn Soltvedt

Principal Analyst