By Kate Ravilious

Mitigation and adaptation are often viewed as separate activities, with the former aiming to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and the latter helping adjust to expected increases in greenhouse gases. A new study shows that when it comes to agriculture, adaptation measures can also generate significant mitigation effects, making them a highly worthwhile investment.

Food production is big. If farmers fail to adapt to climate change we can expect to see more land being turned over to agriculture, in order to keep up with food demand. With this in mind, Stanford Woods Institute Center Fellow David Lobell (Earth Sciences) and colleagues used a model of global agricultural trade to investigate the co-benefits of helping farmers adapt to climate change, thereby avoiding some of the emissions associated with land-use change. Lobell is Associate Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment.

Human activities are currently estimated to produce around 40 billion tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent every year. Model results indicate that agricultural adaptation measures would prevent around 350 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions annually – equivalent to around 1% of total global emissions.

Running their model to 2050, they show that an investment of $225 bn in agricultural adaptation measures can be expected to offset the negative yield impacts associated with predicted temperature and rainfall changes. But that’s not all – the model revealed that this investment would also save 61 million hectares from conversion to cropland, resulting in 15 Gtonnes carbon-dioxide equivalent fewer emissions by 2050.

"I don't think any of us expected the mitigation benefits to be as big as they were," said Lobell, whose findings are published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL). "We had a hunch that they would be big enough to be an important co-benefit, but the fact they were often big enough to rival other mitigation activities was surprising."

Click here to read the full ERL article about this study.