Greenhouse gas intensity of three main crops and implications for low-carbon agriculture in China

Abstract

China faces significant challenges in reconciling food security goals with the objective of becoming a low-carbon economy. Agriculture accounts for approximately 11 % of China’s national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with cereal production representing a large proportion (about 32 %) of agricultural emissions. Minimizing emissions per unit of product is a policy objective and we estimated the GHG intensities (GHGI) of rice, wheat and maize production in China from 1985 to 2010. Results show significant variations of GHGIs among Chinese provinces and regions. Relative to wheat and maize, GHGI of rice production is much higher owing to CH4 emissions, and is more closely related to yield levels. In general, the south and central has been the most carbon intensive region in rice production while the GHGI of wheat production is highest in north and northwest provinces. The southwest has been characterized by the highest maize GHGI but the lowest rice GHGI. Compared to the baseline scenario, a 2 % annual reduction in N inputs, combined with improved water management in rice paddies, would mitigate 17 % of total GHG emissions from cereal production in 2020 while sustaining the required yield increase to ensure food security. Better management practices will entail additional gains in soil organic carbon further decreasing GHGI. To realize the full mitigation potential while maximizing agriculture development, the design of appropriate policies should accommodate local conditions.

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Acknowledgments

This study is funded by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (2013BAD11B03), the Climate Economics Chair of Paris-Dauphine University and the Agricultural Science and Technology Innovation Program of CAAS. D.M. acknowledges support from the SmartSOIL EU FP7 project (grant number 289694).

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Correspondence to Erda Lin.

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Wang, W., Guo, L., Li, Y. et al. Greenhouse gas intensity of three main crops and implications for low-carbon agriculture in China. Climatic Change 128, 57–70 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1289-7

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Keywords

  • Soil Organic Carbon
  • Rice Paddy
  • Soil Organic Carbon Content
  • Cereal Production
  • Maize Production