Join the Newsletter

Stay up-to date with food+ag+climate tech and investment trends, and industry-leading news and analysis, globally.

Subscribe to receive the AFN & AgFunder
newsletter each week.

A flooded rice paddy. Image credit: iStock

Middle-income countries hold 75% of all climate mitigation opportunities, says new World Bank report

May 6, 2024

Middle-income countries are the biggest contributors to global agrifood system emissions, according to a new report from World Bank.

“Recipe for a Livable Planet” outlines how food and agriculture systems contribute to climate change and lays out what it says is the “first comprehensive global strategic framework” for mitigating these contributions.

At 250 pages, the report provides extensive detail on how agrifood contributes to climate change and what can be done to change this. The analysis is based on World Bank-defined country income levels: high-, middle-, and low-income countries (HICs, MICs and LICs).

MICs generate the most agrifood emissions, accounting for 67.8% of total global agrifood emissions compared to 21.2% from HICs and 11% from LICs. MICs also account for the largest absolute increase of agrifood emissions between 1990—1992 and 2018—2020.

HICs have the highest per capita emissions, while LICs hold the fastest rates of emissions increases.

Meat for sale in China. Image credit: iStock

Rapid industrialization causing rise in emissions

Seven of the top 10 agrifood emitters are MICs, including China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, and Argentina.

Much of this is due to rapid industrialization and consumer growth in these countries, which are “largely following the same emissions-heavy development path as HICs, with similar deforestation and land-use change patterns but with much larger and growing populations.”

MICs have decreased emissions related to land-use change (from 38.4% to 20.2% since 1990) but increased (from 17.1% to 34.5% over the same timeframe) pre- and post-production activities like fertilizer production, food loss and waste, and household food consumption.

World Bank notes that each specific country’s pathway to cost-effective emissions reduction will be shaped by its natural resources. For example, Brazil is home to vast amounts of forestland and is also a major meat producer and consumer. Mitigation strategies like forest protection and restoration as well as changes in diets and more carbon sequestration are all cost-effective strategies for this country, according to the report.

Strategies for middle-income countries

Fifteen countries account for 62% of the world’s most cost-effective mitigation strategies; 11 of these are MICs, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Argentina, Mexico and Colombia.

MICs have “an outsized role to play” when it comes to climate mitigation, notes the report.

For example, commodity production leads to deforestation that is “highly concentrated” amongst just a few MICs, which have caused over 80% of commodity-driven deforestation emissions, according to the report: Brazil (31%); Malaysia (7%); Bolivia (4%); and Vietnam (3%).

Conservation, improved land management and restoration of forests and other ecosystems are “cost-effective agrifood mitigation options,” and a growing number of commodity producers in these countries have kickstarted programs to reduce deforestation.

Deforestation in Brazil. Image credit: iStock

At the same time, “greater progress is hampered by insufficiently strong regulations, policies, and incentives to reduce the rate of forest loss as well as a lack of transparency about the sources of many agricultural commodities,” the report notes.

When it comes to livestock emissions, dietary changes have the greatest technical and cost-potential as a solution, given the growing consumer demand for more animal protein in MICs.

However, the report also name-checks supply-side solutions such as cutting food waste and improving resource use efficiency. Halving food waste emissions by 2050 (from 12% to 6%) would reduce livestock emissions by 502 Mt of CO2 equivalent; better resource use could cut livestock emissions by up to 30%.

Meanwhile, rice production is “a significant source of global methane emissions,” accounting for 16% of agricultural methane emissions; most of these originate in Asian MICs, according to the report.

On-farm practices including intermittent water application (versus continuously flooding rice paddies) and aerobic rice cultivation that eliminates methane could cost-effective reduce emissions (though the latter method can also reduce yield).

Here, government policy should play a role, with World Bank noting that they should “apply policy and financing incentives to promote low-emission rice practices. For instance, governments could redirect rice subsidies that incentivize flooding or invest in the research and development of higher-yielding aerobic rice varieties, which farmers increasingly use as cash crops.”

Finally, MICs use 80% of the world’s fertilizer, which generates emissions through production and application.

“A combination of interventions could reduce nitrogen fertilizer production emissions by up to 84%. Likewise, shifting from coal and natural gas to renewable energy to power ammonia production would eliminate 75% of fertilizer production-related emissions.”

Mitigation could provide ‘a 16 to 1’ ROI

The report notes that mitigation action is critical not only for these countries but also those in high-income countries, which should lead the way in terms of strategies.

The financial opportunity for global mitigation action are huge. Annual investments must increase by 18 times — $260 billion per year — in order to halve current agrifood emissions by 2030. However, estimates from World Bank show health, economic, and environmental benefits totaling $4.3 trillion in 2030 — a 16 to 1 return on investment.

Join the Newsletter

Get the latest news & research from AFN and AgFunder in your inbox.

Join the Newsletter
Get the latest news and research from AFN & AgFunder in your inbox.

Follow us:

AgFunder Research
Join Newsletter