ABC Sector Plan – Sector Plan for Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change for the Consolidation of a Low-Carbon Economy in Agriculture


The phenomenon known as "greenhouse effect" occurs when solar radiation, in the form of shortwaves, reaches the Earth, enters the atmosphere, and heats the Earth's surface. Part of this radiation is reflected back as heat, which is blocked by certain gasses, increasing its retention in the lower layers of the atmosphere. 
However, the recent growth of concentrations of heat-retaining gasses, known as Greenhouse Gases (GHG), in the atmosphere has impacted the planet's solar radiation balance, with a tendency to heat its surface. The main GHG identified by the Kyoto Protocol are: Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6). 
The term "global warming", in turn, means that the whole Earth is warming, that is, its average surface temperature has been increasing over the years as a result of the increase of the greenhouse effect, which is due to higher concentrations of certain GHG in the atmosphere, especially CO2, CH4 and N2O. This fact is capable of producing climate alteration or change.
Brazil is among the countries that have always shown concern with this issue, supporting national and international action capable of mitigating these negatives consequences, since it believes that there are enough elements to bring about human-induced climate change, which raises concern over the quality of life of the population as a whole.
In 2009, Brazil presented an international commitment to reduce GHG emissions. This reduction involves various sectors of the economy and was initially aimed at reducing deforestation, adopting sustainable agricultural practices and increasing energy efficiency.

In agriculture in particular, Brazil has elaborated the ABC Plan, officially named "Mitigation and Adaptation to Climate Change for the Consolidation of a Low-Carbon Economy in Agriculture", one of the sector plans established in accordance with the National Climate Change Policy (PNMC, from the acronym in Portuguese) as part of Brazil's strategy to mitigate GHG emissions and fight global warming.

Historical Background

Human activities intensified with the advent of the Industrial Revolution (late 1700s-early 1800s) and still practiced today generate countless sources of GHG emissions, such as burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, swamp draining, use of inefficient nitrogen fertilizers, slash and burn agriculture, intensive soil use, etc.

Accordingly, an increase in heat-trapping has been observed on the planet extending over a long period of time. This has led to what is conventionally called global warming, which in turn can generate changes in the Earth's climate patterns, with unpredictable consequences.

Having identified the problem of global climate change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. This is a group of specialists open to all UN and WMO members.

The IPCC defines "climate change" as any climatic alteration occurring over time, whether caused by natural variations or resulting from human activity. For the Framework Convention on Climate Change, it means climate change directly or indirectly resulting from human activity which alters the composition of the global atmosphere.

In the last centuries, the average temperature of the Earth's surface has increased approximately 0.8ºC, and an increase between 1.4ºC and 5.8ºC is projected for the next 100 years in the "Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC", of 2007.

And according to the latest IPCC report, of 2013, conviction of human participation in the causes of global warming has increased and the temperature has raised 0.89ºC since 1905, although it has remained relatively stable for the last 15 years. The same report records a 66% probability of a 2ºC temperature increase by 2100, with ensuing climate change.

It is important to stress that this temperature increase is not even throughout the planet, with some regions being more affected than others by the phenomenon.

There is a consensus regarding the main goal of stabilizing the global temperature increase at a maximum of 2ºC (based on the average global temperature prior to the Industrial Revolution) in order to guarantee greater safety in climate patterns worldwide.

In developing countries, mitigation efforts will be carried out through Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAS), that is, through voluntary commitments. There are controversies regarding the treatment of internationally supported actions and those depending on the internal efforts of developing countries, and expectations concerning measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) requirements for the two groups of countries (the rich and the poor).

In December 2009, COP-15 (15th session of Conference of the Parties) was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, organized by the UNFCCC. In this conference, the Brazilian government announced voluntary commitments to reduce GHG emissions between 36.1% and 38.9% by 2012, an emissions cut of approximately 1 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, demonstrating the country's engagement in world environmental issues. In 2011, the ABC Plan was approved, outlining the commitments of Brazilian agriculture to reduce GHG emissions.

Current Situation

Recent decades have witnessed the occurrence of the highest temperatures in the historical record in various regions around the world, as well as the occurrence of extreme climate events (prolonged droughts and heavy rains, hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, etc.) and melting of the polar caps.

Among all economic activities, agriculture is naturally the most climate-dependent and, consequently, the most sensitive to climate change. Besides being prone to negative impacts, agriculture and animal husbandry are activities that release GHG into the atmosphere, especially those composed of carbon (CO2 e CH4) and nitrogen (N2O). Thus, they can contribute to the greenhouse effect and global warming while potentially suffering from these phenomena at the same time.

Therefore, Low-Carbon Agriculture (ABC Plan and Program) public policies can significantly contribute to the sustainable development of agricultural production systems, especially with regards to recovering degrades pastures and ICLF (integration crop-livestock-forest) systems.

ABC Plan

As mentioned above, the ABC Plan is a public policy composed of a set of actions aimed at increasing the use of sustainable agriculture technologies with high potential in mitigating GHG emission and fighting global warming.

The ABC Plan framework includes seven Programs: 1) Recovery of Degraded Pastures; 2) Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forestry  Systems (ICLF) and Agroforestry Systems (AFS); 3) No-till Farming Systems; 4) Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF); 5) Planted Forests; 6) Animal Waste Treatment; and (7) Climate Change Adaptation.

Each program proposes a series of actions, such as, for example, improving technical assistance, qualification capacity-building and information, technology transfer techniques, field days, lectures, seminars, workshops, creation of Technological Reference Units (URT), information dissemination campaigns and public notices to hire Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (ATER) services.

These actions are divided into three major groups: climate change adaptation, monitoring mechanisms and cross-cutting actions to be implemented by 2020.

Given the importance and scope of the ABC Plan, it was necessary to detail and modify the original agricultural commitments made at COP-15, which were reformulated with the adoption of the following actions:

  1. Rehabilitate 15 million hectares of degrades pastures using adequate management and fertilization;
  2. Increase the adoption of Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forest Systems (ICLFS) and Agroforestry Systems (AFS) in 4 million hectares;
  3. Increase the use of No-till farming systems in 8 million hectares;
  4. Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF): expand the use of biological fixation in 5.5 million hectares;
  5. Support reforestation actions in the country, expanding the area of Planted Forests currently dedicated to fiber, timber, and cellulose production by 3.0 million hectares, from 6.0 to 9.0 million hectares.
  6. Increase the use of technologies to treat 4.4 million cubic meters of animal waste for the production of energy and organic compost.

These commitments were ratified in article 12 of the law establishing the National Policy on Climate Change – PNMC (Law nº 12.187 of December 29, 2009).

This legislation specifies that the Executive Branch of the Brazilian Government, in accordance with the National Policy on Climate Change, will establish the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Sector Plans to consolidate a low-carbon economy in various sectors.

Within the scope of the ABC plan, State Management Groups have been established in all Brazilian states and the Federal District, which in turn have organized State Plans to implement regional actions to transfer technology, train rural technicians and producers, strengthen Technical Assistance and Rural Extension (ATER) services, create Technological Reference Units (URT), etc., adopting the prescribed technologies. This will greatly qualify all human resources involved in the productive sector and increase the capacity to adopt sustainable production systems that ensure the reduction of GHG emissions, raising the producers' income at the same time.

ABC Program

The 2010/2011 Agriculture and Livestock Plan provided for the creation of the "ABC Program (Low-Carbon Agriculture Program)", a line of credit totaling R$ 2 billion instituted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) and approved by Brazilian Central Bank's Resolution nº 3,896 from August 17, 2010, to finance adequate practices, adapted technologies and efficient productive systems contributing to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

This program offered loans at an interest rate of 5.5% a year to finance the implementation and expansion of integrated crop-livestock or integrated crop-livestock-forest systems, fertilization and implementation of soil conservation practices, implementation and maintenance of commercial forests, recovery of preservation areas and forest reserves and other practices involving sustainable production and geared towards low GHG emission.

In the current 2014/2015 Agriculture and Livestock Plan, the volume of resources available is R$ 4.5 billion at interest rates of 4.5 to 5.0% a year depending on the category of rural producer. The same client can take out more than one loan in the same crop year if necessary, as long as they can prove their ability to pay and the total amount of loans does not exceed R$ 1 million. This limit can be increased to R$ 3 million to finance the creation of commercial forests, and in the case of loans taken out by cooperatives for their members, this limit is per member.

Sensitive and critical aspects and alternatives

The main sensitive aspects of the ABC Plan relate to limitations affecting the agriculture sector as a whole, such as the country's infrastructure and logistics limitations, lack of technical assistance, difficulties to train technicians and producers, availability of financial resources, etc.

More particularly, however, it is necessary to enhance research, technology transfer and technical assistance actions to avoid facing further difficulties during the implementation of the program in the years to come, and, consequently, reach the commitment goals and consolidate sustainable agriculture in Brazil.

In order to reduce emissions in Brazilian agriculture, it is vital to inform society of the risks posed by the increase of GHG emission, global warming, and potential climate change.

Furthermore, it is essential to foster actions to guarantee the continuous improvement of sustainable management practices that reduce GHG emission and also increase the CO2 fixation in plants and soils in Brazilian agricultural sectors and boost farmers' income.

A further sensitive issue is monitoring the ABC Plan. In order to assess the effectiveness of its projected actions, Brazil must develop mechanisms to monitor their implementation and reduce ensuing emission rates. Given the voluntary emission reduction commitments made by the country, it is essential to have monitoring mechanisms capable of effectively demonstrating the fulfillment of the commitments.

Embrapa's participation in the Climate Change issue

Embrapa is involved in various actions of these public policies. It is a member of the Working Group (WG) that elaborated the Agriculture Sector Plan and takes part in the ABC Plan State Management Groups. Many of its Decentralized Units take part in technology transfer events and actions all over the country.

Embrapa's participation in the ABC Plan ranges from enhancing and guiding scientific research on climate change and technologies to leading technology transfer actions. To this end, it must coordinate both internal and external efforts and define its schedules and agendas to support commitments made for the following years.

In order to further the actions in a more organized way, the company has created a Climate Change Portfolio with over 60 projects. Embrapa's Research & Development program for this area involves the following strategy:

  • Foster interaction between different projects such as the Agroenergy Platform, Soil Database, Agrogas Network, and Meteorological Database, in order to determine the state of the art;
  • Generate original data and knowledge to outline a realistic national diagnosis related to the issue;
  • Carry out trend analysis;
  • Monitor environmental conditions by analyzing trend evolution, land use changes, hydrologic balance, water scarcity and excess, desertification, etc.;
  • Model agroforestry systems through parametrization and simulation;
  • Define future agriculture scenarios and, consequently, elaborate mitigation and adaptation strategies;
  • Analyze social, economic, and environmental risks and sustainability with respect to global climate change; and
  • Carry out studies on the acquisition of carbon credits, compensation for environmental services, technology transfer, and the adoption of public policy.

In light of the above, it is clear that Brazil considers climate change to be a concern that requires urgent global efforts. However, the fight against global warming should be compatible with sustainable economic growth and with the fight against poverty.