World Bank Flags MICs as Agrifood Emission Giants

In a groundbreaking new report from the World Bank titled “Recipe for a Livable Planet,” the global agrifood system’s contribution to climate change is meticulously dissected, revealing that middle-income countries (MICs) are at the epicenter of this environmental challenge. The report, spanning 250 pages, is a deep dive into the emissions landscape of the agrifood sector and presents what it describes as the “first comprehensive global strategic framework” aimed at reducing the sector’s impact on our planet.

**The Emissions Breakdown**

The World Bank’s analysis, which categorizes countries into high-, middle-, and low-income (HICs, MICs, and LICs), points to MICs as the largest contributors to global agrifood emissions. They are responsible for a staggering 67.8% of the total, dwarfing the 21.2% from HICs and 11% from LICs. This disproportionate share is further underscored by the fact that MICs have also seen the largest absolute increase in agrifood emissions from the early 1990s to the 2018-2020 period. While HICs maintain the highest per capita emissions, LICs are experiencing the most rapid increases in emission rates.

The report identifies seven of the top ten agrifood emitters as MICs, including China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, and Argentina. This high level of emissions is largely attributed to the rapid industrialization and consumer growth within these nations. They are largely treading the same path as HICs once did, with similar patterns of deforestation and land-use change, but with the added pressure of much larger and growing populations.

Despite a reduction in emissions from land-use changes—from 38.4% to 20.2% since 1990—MICs have seen a rise in emissions from pre- and post-production activities, such as fertilizer production, food loss and waste, and household food consumption, from 17.1% to 34.5% over the same timeframe.

**Strategies for Middle-Income Countries**

The report suggests that MICs are critical in the global fight against climate change, holding “an outsized role to play” in mitigation efforts. For instance, Brazil, with its extensive forestlands and status as a major meat producer and consumer, could implement cost-effective strategies like forest protection and restoration, dietary changes, and enhanced carbon sequestration.

The World Bank’s analysis indicates that 15 countries account for 62% of the world’s most cost-effective mitigation strategies, with 11 being MICs. These strategies include conservation, improved land management, and restoration of ecosystems, which are deemed cost-effective agrifood mitigation options. However, the implementation of these strategies is often hampered by weak regulations, inadequate policies, and a lack of transparency in agricultural commodity sourcing.

Dietary shifts, particularly in animal protein consumption, are highlighted as having significant potential for reducing livestock emissions. Additionally, halving food waste emissions by 2050 could reduce livestock emissions by 502 Mt of CO2 equivalent, while improving resource use efficiency could slash emissions by up to 30%.

Rice production, especially in Asian MICs, is a significant methane emitter, accounting for 16% of agricultural methane emissions. The adoption of intermittent water application and aerobic rice cultivation are suggested as cost-effective ways to reduce these emissions, although the latter may impact yields. Government policies could incentivize low-emission rice practices and support the development of higher-yielding aerobic rice varieties.

Furthermore, MICs’ heavy use of fertilizers, which comprise 80% of global usage, presents another opportunity for emissions reduction. A combination of interventions could cut nitrogen fertilizer production emissions by up to 84%, and a shift to renewable energy for ammonia production could eliminate 75% of related emissions.

**A Call for Global Action and Investment**

The report underscores that mitigation action is essential not only for MICs but also for HICs, which should lead by example with innovative strategies. The investment required for significant impact is substantial—an 18-fold increase to $260 billion per year is necessary to halve current agrifood emissions by 2030. Yet, the potential benefits are immense, with the World Bank estimating health, economic, and environmental returns of $4.3 trillion in 2030, offering a 16 to 1 return on investment.

As the world grapples with the urgent need to address climate change, the World Bank’s “Recipe for a Livable Planet” provides a strategic blueprint for transforming the global agrifood system. It is a clarion call for countries, especially MICs, to embrace their pivotal role in mitigating emissions and to invest in a future that is both sustainable and prosperous.

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