Climate Change

Weather is the day-to-day state of the atmosphere and its short-term variation in minutes to weeks. Climate is the weather of a place averaged over a period of time, often 30 years. Climate information includes the statistical weather information that tells us about the normal weather, as well as the range of weather extremes for a location.

Climate change is a change in the average pattern of weather over a long period of time.The gaseous composition of earth’s atmosphere is undergoing a significant change, largely through increased emissions from energy, industry and agriculture sectors; widespread deforestation as well as fast changes in land use and land management practices. These anthropogenic activities are resulting in an increased emission of radiatively active gases, viz. carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), popularly known as the ‘greenhouse gases’ (GHGs) (Table 1). These GHGs trap the outgoing infrared radiations from the earth’s surface and thus raise the temperature of the atmosphere.

The global mean annual temperature at the end of the 20th century, as a result of GHG accumulation in the atmosphere, has increased by 0.4–0.7 ºC above that recorded at the end of the 19th century. The past 50 years have shown an increasing trend in temperature @ 0.13 °C/decade, while the rise in temperature during the past one and half decades has been much higher.


Table 1. Abundance and lifetime of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere


Parameters                                          CO2               CH4             N2O      Chlorofluorocarbons


Average concentration 100 years      290,000         900              270                         0

ago (ppbV)

Current concentration                     380,000          1,774            319                        3-5

(ppbV) (2007)

Projected concentration in the          400,000-        2,800-          400-500                 3-6

year 2030 (ppbV)                              500,000         3,000

Atmospheric lifetime (year)              5-200             9-15             114                         75

Global warming potential                 1                    25                298                  4750-10900

Source: IPCC (2007)


The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change has projected the temperature increase to be between 1.1 °C and 6.4 °C by the end of the 21st Century (IPCC, 2007). The global warming is expected to lead to other regional and global changes in the climate-related parameters such as rainfall, soil moisture, and sea level. Snow cover is also reported to be gradually decreasing.

Therefore, concerted efforts are required for mitigation and adaptation to reduce the vulnerability of agriculture to the adverse impacts of climate change and making it more resilient. The adaptive capacity of poor farmers is limited because of subsistence agriculture and low level of formal education. Therefore, simple, economically viable and culturally acceptable adaptation strategies have to be developed and implemented. Furthermore, the transfer of knowledge as well as access to social, economic, institutional, and technical resources need to be provided and integrated within the existing resources of farmers.

  1. Emission of Greenhouse Gases

The three major GHGs are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, besides chlorofluorocarbons. A brief description of their sources and sinks is given below.

Carbon Dioxide

The main sources of carbon dioxide emission are decay of organic matter, forest fires, eruption of volcanoes, burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and land-use changes. Agriculture is also a contributor to CO2 emission but is not considered a major source of this important GHG. Within agriculture, soil is the main contributor with factors such as soil texture, temperature, moisture, pH, and available C and N, influencing CO2 emission from soil. Emission of CO2 is more from a tilled soil than from an undisturbed soil (no till). Temperature has a marked effect on CO2 evolution from soil by influencing root and soil respiration. It may be mentioned that plants, oceans and atmospheric reactions are the major sinks of carbon dioxide.


Methane is about 25-times more effective as a heat-trapping gas than CO2. The main sources of methane are: wetlands, organic decay, termites, natural gas and oil extraction, biomass burning, rice cultivation, cattle and refuse landfills. The primary sources of methane from agriculture include animal digestive processes, rice cultivation and manure storage and handling. The removal in the Stratosphere and soil are the main sinks of methane.

In ruminant animals, methane is produced as a by-product of the digestion of feed in the rumen under anaerobic condition. Methane emission is related to the composition of animal diet (grass, legume, grain and concentrates) and the proportion of different feeds (e.g., soluble residue, hemicellulose and cellulose content). Mitigation of methane emitted from livestock is approached most effectively by strategies that reduce feed input per unit of product output. Nutritional, genetic and management strategies to improve feed efficiency increase the rate of product (milk, meat) output per animal. Because most CH4 is produced in the rumen by fermentation, practices that speed the passage of feed from the rumen can also reduce methane formation.

Methane is also formed in soil through the metabolic activities of a small but highly specific bacterial group called ‘methanogens’. Their activity increases in the submerged, anaerobic conditions developed in the wetland rice fields, which limit the transport of oxygen into the soil, and the microbial activities render the water-saturated soil practically devoid of oxygen. The upland, aerobic soil does not produce methane. Water management, therefore, plays a major role in methane emission from soil. Altering water management practices, particularly mid-season aeration by short-term drainage as well as alternate wetting and drying can greatly reduce methane emission from rice cultivation. Improving organic matter management by promoting aerobic degradation through composting or incorporating into soil during off-season drain-period is another promising technique.

Nitrous Oxide

As a greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide is 298-times more effective than CO2. Forests, grasslands, oceans, soils, nitrogenous fertilizers, and burning of biomass and fossil fuels are the major sources of nitrous oxide, while it is removed by oxidation in the Stratosphere. Soil contributes to the largest amount of nitrous oxide emission. The major sources are soil cultivation, fertilizer and manure application, and burning of organic material and fossil fuels. From an agricultural perspective, nitrous oxide emission from soil represents a loss of soil nitrogen, reducing the nitrogen-use efficiency.

Appropriate crop management practices, which lead to increased N-use efficiency, hold the key to reduce nitrous oxide emission. Site-specific nutrient management, fertilizer placement and proper type of fertilizer supply nutrients in a better accordance with plant demands, thereby reduce nitrous oxide emission.