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Many people choose organic products to avoid pesticides and GMOs. But did you know that organic can help mitigate climate change – as well as helping farmers to adapt to changing climate conditions?

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Global emissions from crop and livestock agriculture have risen from 4.7 billion tonnes CO2 equivalent in 2001 to more than 5.3 billion today, an increase of more than 14%.

Organic agriculture can help to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is a direct correlation between nitrous oxide emissions and the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to agricultural land.

Nitrous oxide emissions from managed soils account for almost 40% of agricultural emissions in the EU. This is particularly important because the impact of 1 kilo of nitrous oxide on warming the atmosphere is about 300 times greater than the impact of 1 kilo of carbon dioxide.

Because organic farming does not allow the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, focusing instead on establishing closed nutrient cycles, minimising losses via runoff, volatilization, and emissions, nitrogen levels on organic farms tend to be lower per hectare than on conventional farms which can contribute to a sustainable climate-friendly production system that delivers enough food.

Reducing Energy Use

Conventional agriculture uses vast quantities of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It takes significant amounts of energy to manufacture these chemicals.

Organic agriculture minimizes energy consumption by 30-70% per unit of land by eliminating the energy required to manufacture synthetic fertilizers, and by using internal farm inputs, thus reducing fuel used for transportation.

Helping Farmers to Adapt to Climate Change

Organic agriculture can also help combat global warming by storing carbon in the soil.

Many management practices used by organic agriculture (e.g. minimum tillage, returning crop residues to the soil, the use of cover crops and rotations, and the greater integration of nitrogen fixing legumes), increase the return of carbon to the soil. This raises productivity and favours carbon storage.

Put simply, this means more carbon is stored in the soil, which means less carbon in the atmosphere.

Storing Carbon in the Soil

As the climate changes, farmers are facing many challenges: more unpredictable rains, soil degradation, and new or different pests and diseases.

Organic agriculture helps farmers adapt to climate change because high soil organic matter content and soil cover help to prevent nutrient and water loss. This makes soils more resilient to floods, droughts, and land degradation processes.

The people working in organic food systems also work hard to preserve seed and crop diversity. This increases crop resistance to pests and disease. Maintaining this diversity also helps farmers evolve new cropping systems to adapt to climatic changes.

Overall, organic enables farmers to minimize risk, as a result of stable agro-ecosystems and yields, and lower production costs.

Advocating for Policy Change

At IFOAM – Organics International, we advocate for the inclusion of organic agriculture in national governments’ policies on addressing not only climate change but also hunger and poverty.

We have developed a Global Policy Toolkit on public support to organic agriculture, which includes policy guidelines, a decision-aid to guide readers to the most relevant policy measures based on their country’s situation, policy summaries and tip for organic advocates on how to raise political awareness of the need to support organic agriculture. You can download the Policy Toolkit for free from our website.

Organic agriculture has the potential to help reduce carbon emissions, enhance soil fertility and improve climate resilience. Therefore, we recommend that:

  • Governments should acknowledge organic agriculture as an effective strategy to reduce greenhouse gases and sequester carbon in the 2015 climate agreement. They should help farmers adapt to climate change by promoting organic agriculture through research and extension services.
  • Developing country governments should include initiatives based on the principles of organic agriculture among their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions.

Learn more in our factsheet:

Download our PDF ‘Organic Agriculture Countering Climate Change'