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Promoting ‘dual carbon’ goals in agricultural sector and rural areas

Author  :  Yu Zhijian and Gong Yazhen     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2022-08-03

Carbon peaking and carbon neutrality is a sweeping and profound green industrial revolution, which requires strategic adjustments in areas such as energy, transportation, industry, and agriculture. Agriculture is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and promoting carbon peaking and carbon neutrality in the agricultural sector and in rural areas is a crucial part of the “dual carbon” goals pursued by China.

Emissions by agricultural activities

Agriculture has the potential to sequester carbon, but the carbon-sequestration capacity of Chinese agriculture in the current stage cannot completely offset the greenhouse gases emitted in its production process.

According to the second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change of the People’s Republic of China released in December, 2018, greenhouse gas emissions produced by agricultural activities account for 7.4% of the country’s total emissions. In terms of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural activities account for 48%.

Although greenhouse gases are inevitably emitted by agricultural systems in the production process, agriculture can also contribute to emission reduction by improving the ability for carbon sinks in farmlands, forests, grasslands and other ecosystems, and increasing the resource utilization of livestock and poultry waste.

Coordinated relationships required

Carbon neutrality in the agricultural sector and rural areas involves multidimensional aspects of ecological environment protection and resource utilization, which requires a complete transformation of the agriculture-related industrial chain. Therefore, we should coordinate relationships of the following shifting dimensions.

The first step is to keep coordinated with top-level design of the rural vitalization strategy. Rural life produces large quantities of wastewater and yet has a low rate of sewage disposal, and the issue is aggravated by plenty of refuse and household waste, high energy consumption, severe pollution, and the phenomenon of prevalent straw burning.

To solve the above-mentioned environmental problems, it is necessary to carry out activities that aim to regulate and improve the rural living environment. This is not only a major livelihood project that concerns the well-being of rural residents in the ecological sense, but also an important measure to help achieve the “dual carbon” goals.

Currently, work priorities proposed in the Strategic Plans for Rural Vitalization (2018-2022) are making solid progress, and the first phase of tasks are nearing completion. In the top-level design of the plans in the next stage, the concept of reducing emissions should run through the entire process of rural vitalization.

The second step is to coordinate tasks while guaranteeing food security as the bottom line. It is necessary to deal with the relationship between low-carbon development and food production in a dialectical way and unify the two. The aim is to ensure that national food security is not threatened due to a one-sided pursuit of emission reductions, and that excessive emissions and severe pollution are not caused by abuse of chemical agricultural materials for the sake of pursuing short-term food output.

The third step is to cultivate a mentality that considers realizing low-carbon a “protracted war,” which proceeds incrementally with measured steps. It is noteworthy that rural areas in China are characterized by a large population base and relatively poor infrastructure, which means that low-carbon transformation of these areas would be a long-term process. A buffering period of transition might be needed. In a significant proportion of rural areas, coal and wood stoves are still used for heating and cooking. In these areas, clean energy usage should be gradually promoted, but inefficient investment and misuse of funds resulting from unsatisfactory transformation should be prevented.

In conclusion, promoting carbon neutrality while implementing the strategy of rural revitalization is a systematic project of complexity, which requires a balance striking between development and emission reduction, the overall and the partial, and short-term and long-term relationships.


Yu Zhijian and Gong Yazhen (associate professor) are from the School of Environment at Renmin University of China.

Editor: Yu Hui

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