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[COPENHAGEN] Countries are joining forces to find ways of doubling global food output without increasing carbon emissions from agriculture.

The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases was launched this week (16 December) at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen by 21 countries, led by Tim Grosser, New Zealand's associate minister for climate change issues.

Agriculture accounts for 14 per cent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions, on a par with the transport sector. Crop experts expect the world food demand to double by 2050 compared with 2005 and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture to rise by 30–40 per cent in that period.

Initial pledges totalling around US$150 million have been made by alliance members Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Chile, Colombia, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Uruguay and Vietnam are also part of the alliance, which hopes to attract more members. It will hold its first meeting in March 2010 in New Zealand to spell out emissions reduction targets and how to achieve them.

The alliance is seeking international cooperation and investment to study agriculture's role in climate change, including the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in fields.

Other aims include helping scientists gain expertise in, and technology for, mitigation and adaptation; facilitating information exchange among scientists globally; and improving access to and sharing of knowledge by farmers.

It also seeks to identify gaps in existing research and to coordinate scientific collaboration; encourage dissemination of research and develop new partnerships among scientists, international research institutes, farmers organisations and civil society organisations.

Tom Vilsack, US secretary of agriculture, said the alliance hopes its work will lead to cheaper and accurate methods to measure the sector's greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon dioxide stored in soil as well as new farming practices to reduce emissions and improve yield. 

Alliance representatives noted that the agriculture sector faced significant challenges in scaling up food production to ensure food security for all while contributing to limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says that the size and fundamental importance of agriculture worldwide means any successful climate change agreement must address agriculture's role in mitigation, while simultaneously helping the sector adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to shifts in temperature and rainfall patterns because of global warming.