The planet's climate has constantly been changing over geological time. The global average temperature today is about 15C, though geological evidence suggests it has been much higher and lower in the past. However, the current period of warming is occurring more rapidly than many past events. Scientists are concerned that the natural fluctuation, or variability, is being overtaken by a rapid human-induced warming that has serious implications for the stability of the planet's climate.

The greenhouse effect refers to the way the Earth's atmosphere traps some of the energy from the Sun. Solar energy radiating back out to space from the Earth's surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases and re-emitted in all directions. The energy that radiates back down to the planet heats both the lower atmosphere and the surface. Without this effect, the Earth would be about 30C colder, making our planet hostile to life.

Scientists believe we are adding to the natural greenhouse effect with gases released from industry and agriculture (known as emissions), trapping more energy and increasing the temperature. This is commonly referred to as global warming or climate change.

Most man-made emissions of CO2 are through the burning of fossil fuels, as well as through cutting down carbon-absorbing forests. Other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide are also released through human activities, but their overall abundance is small compared with carbon dioxide.

Since the industrial revolution began in 1750, CO2 levels have risen by more than 30% and methane levels have risen more than 140%. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is now higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years.


Climate-smart agriculture is not a new form of agriculture. It’s a holistic system that identifies the risks posed by climate change and the best practices to address those challenges. Here are a few climate-smart tactics:

1. Have a plan
Farms with a sound management plan are better poised to increase their food output, combat food insecurity, run more efficiently, save money, and reduce their climate impact. Farm managers get a clear picture of how the farm operates, and how it can run more efficiently while producing more food.

Running more efficiently means reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Producing more food with land already in use means reduced need for fresh farmland, cleared from forests. Meanwhile, farms also keep close track of weather and farm data, which can help them predict patterns and plan more effectively.

2. Water conservation
Access to freshwater is vital to any farming operation. Since agriculture consumes roughly 70 percent of the world’s freshwater, water conservation is urgent and necessary in areas where water is becoming increasingly scarce.

Climate-smart agriculture promotes a number of water conservation practices, such as planting a buffer of trees and bushes along streams and rivers to prevent erosion and contamination from crop runoff. Another climate-smart water technique is to treat wastewater caused by agricultural processing before it is released back into waterways.

3. Save the soil
On farms where climate-smart agriculture practices are used, the soil is treated almost as if it were a crop. Not only does fertile soil impart better flavor and higher nutritional value to food, soil is one of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet. Tending to the soil increases the amount of greenhouse gasses sequestered, and means healthier plants with higher yields.

 Healthy soil holds more moisture, keeping plant roots hydrated in dry periods. Soil conservation methods such as contour planting or no-till farming reduce erosion, keeping the soil in place during heavy rains or floods. All this equates to higher climate resilience for farms and better soil.

4. Get your hands dirty
Sometimes to get the job done, you have to get your hands dirty. Pulling weeds by hand instead of using chemical weed killers is more labor-intensive in the first year or two—but it is better for soil health and can lower a farmer’s greenhouse gas emissions and operating costs

Farmers using this climate-smart method have not only nixed the expense of chemical herbicides and fertilizers; they have also boosted crop yields without clearing more forest, because their soil is now more fertile.

5. More trees, please
Farmers using climate-smart practices understand that trees do a lot on farms: they can act as windbreaks, reducing soil erosion; they can enrich soil; they can filter water, resulting in higher water quality; they provide shade for workers and shade-loving plants; they create habitat for wildlife and wildlife corridors; they suck up and store greenhouse gasses—the list goes on.

6. Renewable Energy
Maximizing energy efficiency and shifting away from fossil fuels are important steps that farms can take to reduce their climate footprint. This can include on-farm renewable energy production such as solar panels and wind turbines, minimizing use of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, and reducing dependence on fossil fuel inputs for farming, storage, and transportation of crops.

7. Organic Practices
Since the middle of the twentieth century, the industrialization of agriculture has led to widespread dependence on petroleum-based pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in conventional farming. Organic farming prohibits most synthetic inputs, which means reduced emissions, as well as cleaner soil, water, and food. Furthermore, organic and sustainable techniques bring additional benefits for farmers, such as increased soil health and fertility, which leads to additional climate-friendly benefits.

8. Increasing Soil Health
A major set of sustainable practices that shows great potential for mitigating and even helping to reverse the effects of climate change is carbon farming. Through photosynthesis, plants serve as carbon sinks to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere. About 40% of that carbon then gets deposited into the soil, where it feeds microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes. Those creatures, in return, give mineral nutrients to the plants, providing a natural fertilizer. Farms can support this process of carbon sequestration by increasing plant matter and building soil fertility through practices such as compost application, planting cover crops, and reduced or no-till cultivation.

9. Keeping Agriculture Green
Land management practices such as reforesting range lands, restoring riparian zones, and planting hedgerows and other perennial plants serve many benefits, such as providing shelter for wildlife, beautifying farms, and attracting beneficial insects for pollination and natural pest control. On the climate front, trees, shrubs, and other woody vegetation also store carbon in their biomass, protect the soil from erosion, and conserve water.

10. Reducing Livestock Methane Emissions
Through anaerobic decomposition, manure lagoons on industrial dairy and cattle farms (concentrated animal feeding operations) create harmful emissions and pollute our water supply. Holistic pasture-based livestock management through practices like rotational grazing can help to mitigate this impact, since grasses provide high-quality forage that is better for cattle’s digestion, while their hooves break up soil and manure as they move through range lands helps to fertilize the soil.

11. Pushing for Climate-Friendly Policies
There are many ways to support climate-friendly farming on the ground, but reducing the damage of climate change and building climate resilience will require major policy changes. As citizens, we can stand with climate-wise farmers to protect our future by urging our legislators to take action now.

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