Adaptation and mitigation, challenges for the agricultural and forestry sector to respond to the climate emergency

The climate emergency is a global challenge for which the participation of the main global, European and local bodies, as well as the rest of society, is essential. Such is its relevance that, with the aim of involving all types of actors – governments, companies, civil society and individuals – in 2015 the United Nations (UN) established the Sustainable Development Agenda, setting 17 goals that seek to transform our world and promote green energy and sustainability by 2030.

At NEIKER, we focus on research into the primary sector and the conservation of the natural environment and we actively participate in the fulfilment of these goals through two main lines of work: adaptation and mitigation. On the one hand, adaptation to climate change and the study of its repercussions on agricultural activity and the natural environment. On the other hand, mitigation of this change by making primary sector activities more sustainable and emitting less greenhouse gases. These lines of work of the technology centre form part of the Basque Green Deal roadmap, a model for fair and sustainable economic development promoted by the Basque Government, in line with the EU Green Deal or European Green Pact strategy.

To develop this activity, we consider agricultural activity in its entirety, both the food chain and the forestry chain. This knowledge allows us to implement the methodologies and indicators necessary to objectively measure these effects.

Thus, in terms of adaptation to climate change, we work to understand and predict the adaptation of current crops, forestry species and livestock production to future scenarios. How will current species and breeds behave in the future? Will they be able to maintain the production levels that ensure their continuity and sustainability? Is it possible to identify individuals that can withstand the changes derived from climate change better than the rest and thus carry out genetic selection based on them? Or is it better to look for alternative species, and are our production systems adapted to these new scenarios?

In addition to answering these questions, at NEIKER we also study emerging diseases that will emerge under the new climatic conditions and that will favour the presence and development of microorganisms that attack crops, forests and animals. In this field, early warning systems are established for early detection and to be able to act quickly without allowing the diseases to spread.

With regard to actions linked to mitigation, and trying to ensure that production systems emit less and less greenhouse gases, we are studying how changes in the feeding of livestock species, the identification and selection of animals that emit less gases and can be selected, or the rational use of inputs (phytosanitary products, fertilisers) in crops, as well as the selection of varieties that maintain high levels of productivity while emitting less gases, can contribute to this. Along these lines, we are also exploring agricultural and forestry practices that increase the capture and storage of carbon in soils to prevent it from reaching the atmosphere. Likewise, in order to make progress in this field, it is essential to develop new methodologies and indicators to facilitate research work. In this respect, NEIKER has equipment that measures emissions of gases of animal origin, both at individual and farm level, and has developed indicators to measure the carbon footprint and water footprint of agricultural activities through the use of the latest technological advances and artificial intelligence.

Finally, it is necessary to look at farming from a holistic point of view. A product produced using inputs transported from far away does not emit the same amount of gases as the same product produced using inputs from nearby. Society must also be aware of this and commit to the consumption of local products in order to contribute to a more sustainable planet.

Eva Ugarte

General Manager of NEIKER