The Twin Crisis: Climate Change and Agriculture

– Vaishnavi

As the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP26) unfolds in Glasgow, aspirational commitments from various national leaders have been made to tackle global warming. The conference’s main focus has been to devise a strategy to bend the temperature curve below 1.5C. On the stage, India has also made bold and crucial climate commitments, surprising many. However, India’s unwillingness to sign the new Global Methane Pledge initiative underlines India’s fatal flaw in its strategy against climate change. Concern over its impact on the country’s vast agricultural sector overrode India’s otherwise aspirational commitments in other sectors. However, in all probability, the move is counterproductive at resolving the twin crisis that one of India’s critical sectors finds itself in.

What is the Twin Crisis?

The agricultural sector in India has been in distress for a long period due to various reasons. However, the necessity for a constant increase in food output due to the burgeoning population has led to the adoption of numerous ecologically unsustainable practices, making the agriculture sector one of the major contributors to climate change. But, it is also one of the sectors which have been acutely affected by climate change, with frequent dry spells, heat waves and erratic rainfall patterns affecting crop yield. This cyclical relationship between the need to enhance food output driving climate change and in turn, the climate change hampering the crop yield is what constitutes India’s twin crisis – agriculture and climate change. 


Agriculture and Climate Change

India is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for 7% of global GHG emissions. Sector-wise, agriculture accounts for around 18% of gross national emissions. The majority of agricultural GHG emissions occur during the primary production stage, when agricultural inputs (mostly water, fertilisers, and pesticides) are produced and used, as well as farm machinery, soil disturbance, residue management, and irrigation.

As the agriculture sector contributes to climate change, its effects are also acutely felt. The increase in temperature has made Indian agriculture more resource-intensive. A recent ICAR research found that farming in India now consumes 30% more water due to “high evaporative demand and crop length due to induced maturity” in regions such as Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, and Rajasthan, where temperatures have increased. Furthermore, the 2021 Global hunger index report, where India’s position dropped to 101 from erstwhile 94, declared in its findings that, worsening conflict, weather extremes associated with global climate change, and the economic and health challenges associated with the COVID- 19 pandemic are primary drivers of global hunger. With the current food grain production standing at 265 million tonnes, the trends indicate the demand to rise by 70% by 2050 due to the growing population requiring a further increase in productivity. The issue of increasing food production while managing GHG emissions has proven to be a major challenge for the Indian state.

What Is The Global Methane Pledge and India’s Stand On It?

Global methane pledge is a new regulatory measure to limit global methane. It has been introduced in the wake of the IPCC report, which warned the world that the planet can barely afford any more GHG emissions. One of the central aims of this agreement is to cut down methane emissions by up to 30% from 2020 levels by the year 2030. Methane is a crucial opportunity at tackling climate change. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report – a 0.3% reduction per year in methane is equivalent to net-zero for carbon dioxide — there would be no additional warming if this level of reduction is achieved. As a result, cutting back on methane emissions is one of the most effective ways to minimise near-term global warming.

Methane accounts for about 20% of global emissions. Although it has a shorter lasting effect than Carbon dioxide, it is 80 times more potent. While Methane is emitted from various anthropogenic activities and natural sources, agricultural activities, as well as livestock rearing, are significant contributors. 

While the pledge boasts commitments from 104 countries, India has chosen to stay out, at least for now. The non-signing of the pledge is primarily driven by concerns regarding the impact on India’s vast agricultural sector by committing to various obligations of the agreement aimed at cutting methane emission.     

The Future

The change in climatic patterns increasingly being felt throughout the country and declining food security necessitates adopting innovative and brave measures to address this twin crisis. Several studies have found that cost-effective strategies such as efficient fertiliser usage, adoption of zero-tillage techniques, and water management in rice irrigation have the potential to cut down almost half of India’s annual greenhouse emissions. However, the adoption of these measures on a large scale remains reliant on the socio-political environment. With a large proportion of our population still struggling to achieve food security, the threat of climate change looms large in India. The time for shying away from measures that require austerity and resource intensity is over. The key to India’s twin crisis requires the political leaders to come out of their shells and hold consultation with all the key stakeholders, primarily the farmers. It is only with cooperation and collaboration across the society that India can hope to mitigate the crisis.

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