This Issue Brief questions the potential contribution of an extensive agroecological food system to the objective of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It rests on a comparison of the TYFA (Ten Years For Agroecology in Europe) scenario with the agricultural component of recently published scenarios, using a multi-criteria dashboard. The objective of climate mitigation is put in the broader perspective of transitioning towards a sustainable food system, taking into account the challenges of human health, conservation of natural resources and biodiversity, and adaptation to climate change.

Key Messages

  • The TYFA scenario is based on the generalisation of organic farming (abandoning synthetic pesticides and fertilizers), the extension of agroecological infrastructures and the adoption of healthy diets, to feed 530 million Europeans by 2050 (despite a 35% drop in production). It leads to a 40% reduction in GHG emissions (35% for direct non-CO2 emissions), offers a potential for soil carbon sequestration of 159 MtCO2eql/year until 2035, and a reduction of bioenergy production to zero. The scenario is thus not easily compatible with the objective of carbon neutrality, but offers many co-benefits: biodiversity, natural resources, adaptation, health.
  • A variant of TYFA, TYFA-GHG (for greenhouse gases) improves these performances with a view to achieving carbon neutrality, while conserving the core assumptions of the initial scenario. Emission reductions reach -47%, the sequestration potential is similar, and bioenergy production amounts to 189 TWh/year. TYFA-GHG is based on a greater reduction in bovine livestock (-34% compared to 2010, compared to -15% for TYFA) and the controlled development of anaerobic digestion using grassland grasses and animal manure as feedstock.
  • In contrast, carbon neutral scenarios rely on a land sparing approach: increases in agricultural yields enable to free up land that is either afforested to increase the biogenic well or used to produce biomass energy. However, assumptions on yield increases seem very high (up to +30%) if one considers, on the one hand their recent stagnation in Europe (particularly for cereals) and, on the other hand, the potential impacts on biodiversity and soil health. Those impacts could indeed call into question the very productive capacity of agroecosystems and thus lead to lower yields rather than higher ones.
  • This Issue Brief proposes a framework for discussing scenarios designed with distinct perspectives. The aim is to ensure that political debates regarding decarbonisation pathways of the agricultural sector will (i) better integrate biodiversity and soil health issues (beyond a single carbon metric) in order to (ii) reconsider strategies based on land sharing and agroecology as credible ones.
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