Quantifying food-related global greenhouse gas emissions

Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences
4 pm on Thursday, March 17, 2022
Available via zoom and in-person in Harshbarger 110
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Atul K. Jain
Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


GHG emissions from the food sector account for a major share of global total man-made GHG emissions. Despite previous efforts to assess GHG emissions from agriculture, forestry, and land use, food sector data are sparse, spatially inexplicit, and methodologically inconsistent across agricultural sub-sectors. By developing a consistent, unified data-modeling framework, we estimated global GHG emissions (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) from plant- and animal-based human food. The modeling component calculates the sources and sinks of all three GHG gases, as well as interactions between them. The database includes a wide range of farming practices, agricultural products — totaling 171 crops and 16 animal products — and data from around 200 countries. This analysis allows for the calculation of spatial- and country-level emissions from each agricultural commodity and addresses crucial questions in food emissions accounting. We estimate that the current global food production was responsible for GHG emissions equivalent to 17,318 teragrams of CO2 per year, of which 57% corresponds to the production of animal-based food, 29% to plant-based foods, and 14% to other utilizations.


Atul Jain is a Professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois. Dr. Jain's research focuses on improving our understanding of the interactions among Earth’s climate system through accurate representation of various biophysical (e.g., thermal energy and hydrology), biogeochemical (e.g., carbon and nitrogen), and ecological processes, and how these processes are impacted by the human activities, such as land-use changes. Dr. Jain has developed a data-model integration framework, ISAM, to conduct this research. Dr. Jain has won numerous awards and honors, including the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Award. He has served as a lead and contributing author for major assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He is the author of over 175 scientific articles, including highly cited articles in Nature and Science. Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters) has listed Dr. Jain as one of the "Most Highly Cited” Researchers, and Reuters has listed him as one of the “World’s Top Climate Scientists” Dr. Jain received a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences from the Indian Institute of Technology.