Review Article | Published:

Global agriculture and nitrous oxide emissions

Nature Climate Change volume 2, pages 410416 (2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and agriculture represents its largest source. It is at the heart of debates over the efficacy of biofuels, the climate-forcing impact of population growth, and the extent to which mitigation of non-CO2 emissions can help avoid dangerous climate change. Here we examine some of the major debates surrounding estimation of agricultural N2O sources, and the challenges of projecting and mitigating emissions in coming decades. We find that current flux estimates — using either top-down or bottom-up methods — are reasonably consistent at the global scale, but that a dearth of direct measurements in some areas makes national and sub-national estimates highly uncertain. We also highlight key uncertainties in projected emissions and demonstrate the potential for dietary choice and supply-chain mitigation.

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK

    • Dave S. Reay
    •  & Keith A. Smith
  2. The Woods Hole Research Center, 149 Woods Hole Road, Falmouth, Massachusetts 02540-1644, USA

    • Eric A. Davidson
  3. Woodlands One, Pomeroy Villas, Totnes, Devon TQ9 5BE, UK

    • Keith A. Smith
  4. Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Cruickshank Building, St Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK

    • Pete Smith
  5. The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA

    • Jerry M. Melillo
  6. European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Climate Change Unit, via Enrico Fermi 1, I-21020 Ispra, TP 290, Italy

    • Frank Dentener
  7. Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Department of Atmospheric Chemistry, PO Box 3060, D-55020 Mainz, Germany

    • Paul J. Crutzen

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Contributions

D.S.R. conceived the Review, conducted the analyses of diet and food waste impacts, and prepared the manuscript. All authors contributed in the writing and editing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dave S. Reay.

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    Global agriculture and nitrous oxide emissions

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1458

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