Reducing Emissions Arising from the Application of Fertilizer in Canada’s Agricultural Sector

Aug 31, 2022

Submission from Green Party of Canada to Agriculture Canada Consultation: Reducing Emissions Arising from the Application of Fertilizer in Canada’s Agricultural Sector


Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the emissions caused by Canadian agriculture. We welcome the consultation on Reducing Emissions Arising from the Application of Fertilizer in Canada’s Agricultural Sector as one aspect of addressing the harmful effects of large-scale industrial agriculture on the environment and climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates global GHG emissions from agriculture at 24%, making agriculture the second largest emitter after electricity and heat. In Canada, agriculture is estimated to contribute to about 10% of emissions, of which about 17-18% comes from nitrogen (N). This may seem like a modest amount, and drives the (relatively modest) target of about 4 MT CO2 eq reduction. However, these are estimates of direct and indirect emissions (nitrous oxide) from fields and do not take into account emissions from manufacturing of N fertilizers. If we are to ensure a livable planet for our children, grandchildren and future generations, we must systemically change the way that Canada feeds itself.

The Federal government, in setting the targets, underestimates the contribution of nitrogen from agricultural emissions to total emissions because it excludes emissions from the manufacturing of synthetic nitrogen. Nitrogen fertilizer manufacture is very carbon intensive because it uses fossil fuels as both fuel and feedstock for the synthesis. Various studies on GHG emissions estimate about 40% of emissions of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers occur during production and transport, largely in the form of CO2 from burning fossil fuels for manufacturing. This is important because the government discussion paper excludes those industry emissions from the target, but they represent a significant opportunity for reduction.

It is not enough to simply reduce fertilizer emissions; we must completely rethink and restructure Canada’s agricultural system if we are to meet the urgency of the climate crisis, while anticipating, adapting to, and minimizing the impacts of a changing climate regime.

The imperative of the Paris Agreement is to hold global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. We must not assume that our only available steps are incremental nor that the status quo is cast in stone. The time is now to act on creating sustainable solutions. Without deep, transformative and radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within our agricultural system, any emissions target the government sets will be irrelevant. Canada must reform the agriculture system to be sustainable without a dependence on synthetic fertilizers – especially those supplied by Russia – and with stronger supports for Canadian farmers to assist them through the transition.

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