India needs a carbon policy for agriculture 

Synopsis: The share of agriculture in India’s total emissions has gradually declined. However, in absolute terms emissions from agriculture have increased to a level similar to China’s. India needs to take steps to address this issue.


In its recent assessment report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued “code red” to humanity as we rush towards a 1.5-degree Celsius hotter planet by 2040.

In light of this background, India needs to do more to decrease its agricultural emissions.

Must Read: IPCC 6th Assessment report – Explained, Pointwise
What is the current emission scenario in the world and of India? 

Per capita emissions: US has the highest per capita emissions (15.24 tonnes), followed by Russia (11.12 tonnes). India’s per capita emissions is just 1.8 tonnes, significantly lower than the world average of 4.4 tonnes per capita

Emission intensity: If one takes emissions per unit of GDP, of the top five absolute emitters, China ranks first with 0.486 kg per 2017 PPP $ of GDP, which is very close to Russia at 0.411 kg per 2017 PPP $ of GDP. India is slightly above the world average of 0.26 (kg per 2017 PPP $ of GDP) at 0.27 kg, while the USA is at 0.25, and Japan at 0.21. (You don’t have to remember the figures. Given here for information only)

Greenhouse gas emissions: According to the Global Carbon Atlas, India ranks third in total greenhouse gas emissions by emitting annually around 2.6 billion tonnes (Bt) CO2eq. China and US are in top positions in this case.  

Effect of weather events: As per Germanwatch, in 2021 India ranked seventh on the list of countries most affected due to extreme weather events, incurring losses of $69 billion (in PPP) in 2019.  

Sector-wise emissions: Sector-wise global emissions show that electricity & heat production and agriculture, forestry and other land use make up 50% of the emissions.

For India, the energy sector has the largest share (44%), followed by the manufacturing and construction sector (18%), and agriculture, forestry and land use sectors (14%), with the remaining being shared by the transport, industrial processes and waste sectors.

– Share of agriculture: The share of agriculture in total emissions has gradually declined from 28% (1994) to 14% (2016). However, in absolute terms, emissions from agriculture have increased to about 650 Mt CO2 in 2018, which is similar to China’s emissions from agriculture.

What are the factors behind agricultural emissions in India? 

Agricultural emissions in India are primarily from the livestock sector (54.6%) in the form of methane emissions. The reason being- 

-fermentation that takes place in the digestive system of the animals 

-use of nitrogenous fertilisers in agricultural soils (19%) which emit nitrous oxides; 

-rice cultivation (17.5%) in anaerobic conditions and, 

-livestock management (6.9%) and burning of crop residues (2.1%). 

On what lines India’s carbon policy be structured to reduce agricultural emissions? 

Carbon credits to farmers: Along with reducing emissions in agriculture, farmers should be rewarded with carbon credits which should be globally tradable.  

Better feeding practices: With the world’s largest livestock population (537 million), India needs better feeding practices with smaller numbers of cattle by raising their productivity.  

Switching to less water intensive crops: Direct seeded rice and alternative wet and dry practices can reduce the carbon footprint in rice fields. But the real solution lies in switching areas from rice to maize or other less water-guzzling crops.

-opening up corn for ethanol and rewarding farmers for this switch by making corn more profitable than paddy, can help not only reduce our huge dependence on crude oil imports but also reduce the carbon footprint.  

We need to use better alternatives of nitrogen fertilizer to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils. We need to promote fertigation (mixed with water) and subsidise soluble fertilisers. Ultimately, the government should incentivise and give subsidies on drips for fertigation.

Source: This post is based on the article “ India needs a carbon policy for agriculture ” published in The Indian Express on 11th October 2021. 

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