Environmental scholars in Germany and the United States have completed a comprehensive global report on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by the various types of land use. The peer-reviewed report, published in Nature, examined the time period of 1961 through 2017. Among its findings: From 2001 through 2017, agricultural activities contributed 25 percent to the total GHG emissions caused by human activities. 

The authors examined GHG emissions from several perspectives: 

  • By Region: Land use emissions were substantial but essentially unchanged in the more affluent parts of the world including North America and Europe. In Asia and the Middle East, which traditionally produce fewer land use emissions, agricultural emissions are increasing in line with population expansion. 
  • By Product: Cereals accounted for the highest global emissions among agricultural products, followed by beef. Combined, these two products contributed 71% of global net emissions. In 2008, oil crops overtook wood as the third highest emitters.
    • A comparative analysis of regional oil crops revealed that Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for the largest change in land use emissions. This corresponded with land clearing to plant soy, particularly in Argentina and along the Amazon. 

The report also highlighted the top 50 country/agricultural products with highest emissions. The top five emissions sources are Indonesian rice, followed by Brazilian soy, Brazilian beef cattle, Chinese rice and Brazilian corn. Malaysian oil palm, listed at no. 40, has emission figures seven times lower than that of Indonesian rice. 

The authors noted, “Although emissions intensity decreased in all regions, large differences across regions persist over time. The three highest-emitting regions (Latin America, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) dominate global emissions growth from 1961 to 2017, driven by rapid and extensive growth of agricultural production and related land-use change. In addition, disproportionate emissions are related to certain products: beef and a few other red meats supply only 1 percent of calories worldwide, but account for 25 percent of all land-use emissions.” 

Supplementary data provided by the authors can be accessed here