Climate Change

Reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint while ensuring global food security is a critical challenge that mobilizes a range of stakeholders given the complexity of the issue. The fertilizer industry and other parts of the private sector, UN Agencies, national governments, civil society and non-governmental organizations all have a role to play.

The fertilizer industry is committed to playing its part in curbing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 1.5C, the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The industry recognizes that an efficient transition to economy-wide, net-zero emissions is the only way to limit global warming. While some companies have already committed to net-zero, others are developing strategies for lower-carbon pathways.

On production sites, significant progress has already been achieved in the last 30 years thanks to the adoption of best available technologies. Now academic institutions, research and development centers and a number of IFA members are working on technologies to produce ammonia from sustainable, carbon-neutral inputs. Industry-driven, measurable efforts to reduce carbon footprint are also happening in the fertilizer transport and supply chain down to the farm level, as part of a comprehensive global engagement to decarbonize the entire food supply chain.

Reducing emissions from fertilizer application

When considering GHG emissions from fertilizer use, the focus should be on relative emissions of agricultural crops grown with the assistance of fertilizers. Zero losses are not an achievable goal given that we are dealing with natural biological processes; but it is important for plant nutrient sources to be carefully managed and applied according to crop- and site-specific needs to achieve the “triple wins” of food security, environmental protection, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Nutrient use efficiency i.e., the proportion of nutrients applied from all sources that are taken up by the crop, is a useful indicator the efficiency of fertilizer management, while minimizing environmental losses. Low output/input ratios often reflect risks of nutrient losses to the environment, while high ratios, above 100 percent, reflect soil nutrient mining practices that reduce soil fertility if practiced over several years. Both cases are unsustainable.

The fertilizer industry therefore promotes the science-based Principles of 4R Nutrient Stewardship (Right Nutrient Source, at the Right Rate, at the Right Time, in the Right Place), as they match nutrient supply with crop requirements to optimize yields while minimizing losses to the environment.

Learn more:

Understanding and Managing Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Agricultural Soils


15 January 2021

Increasing soil carbon sequestration and preventing land-use change

Fertilizers play two essential roles in the fight against climate change: First, they forestall deforestation, as they allow for increased productivity on arable land. They help maintain the integrity of the globe’s forests, which are important carbon sinks.

Second, they also increase the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural soils by contributing to their building up of soil organic matter (SOM). SOM importantly facilitates higher nutrient uptake by plants, and increased plant growth absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere. Almost 90 percent of agriculture’s future mitigation potential is based on soil carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration in cultivated soils can be increased by adding appropriate organic and mineral nutrients for biomass production, as well as by reducing tillage, and using cover crops.

In order to maximize carbon sequestration in soil organic matter, the fertilizer industry advocates for the integrated use of available plant nutrients (organic and inorganic) to improve crop and biomass production.

Read more on this topic:

IFA Publications

Estimating & Reporting Fertilizer-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Accounting for Mitigation of N-fertiliser Emissions at National and Project Scales
Submission to the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture
Fertilizers and low emission development in sub-Saharan Africa
The Role of Fertilizers in Climate Smart Agriculture