Public and political discussion of climate change in global north countries, including Germany, has tended to focus narrowly on a few sectors, particularly transport and energy generation. Yet agriculture, and food systems more generally, are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as to biodiversity loss and the loss of carbon captured in land due to land use changes. In Germany, the agriculture sector is responsible for 7.4% of greenhouse gas emissions - 13.4% if the emissions from agricultural use of soils are included - and the agriculture and food sector as a whole, including production, marketing and preparation of food is responsible for as much as 25% to 33% of German emissions. Clearly, the agriculture sector must play a vital role in reaching German emissions targets.
German agriculture is implicated not only in climate change mitigation efforts - it also requires extensive work to reach climate change adaptation targets. Agriculture in Germany is increasing vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In 2020, the sector experienced a third consecutive year of drought, with much lower than usual rains in the summer months. Crop yields fell for a third consecutive year in some regions. Agriculture is also a major contributor to elevated nitrate loads in water bodies, as well as the loss of soil organic matter which further threatens biological diversity. Finally, as the Covid-19 pandemic underlined, there are intimate connections between public health, animal health, and the health of the planet, both with reference to the animal-human transmission of disease, and infection between humans in crowded working conditions associated with the food industry.
Clearly, in order to reach both climate mitigation and adaptation targets, agriculture in Germany must achieve significant transformation and ambitious reform, backed up with political will and underpinned by rigorous research aimed at realising synergies between the different dimensions outlined above. The starting point of such an agenda should be an integrated land management perspective, as argued in a new report by a number of leading researchers in the German agricultural sector.
The report lays out several elements of a national research strategy aimed at transforming the German agricultural sector towards greater climate resilience. The paper begins by outlining a set of principles that should underpin the design of research studies for climate-resilient agriculture. It then outlines the importance of understanding transformation processes and indicates how science can be informed by these insights, including from political economy perspectives, to pursue transformative agricultural science studies. The authors then set out a number of specific areas for research in both mitigation and adaptation, including restoration of peatlands, changing consumption and production of animal protein products, reduction of nitrogen emissions in agriculture, plant breeding for diversity, and agroforestry.
Setting all of these discussions into their political context, including by reflecting on incentives and subsidies, the paper argues for developing a comprehensive research agenda for climate resilient agriculture in Germany as part of an interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral project for national mitigation and adaptation.