Modern genetic engineering
GM plants offer opportunities to cultivate crops that limit climate impact. Modern genetic engineering can also be used to develop plants that are adapted to warmer and drier climates, in which there is an increased risk of attacks by pests and plant diseases.
Examples of how modern gene technology can be used in the fight against climate change are listed below.
Effective insecticides generate less CO2
Modern genetic engineering offers opportunities to develop crops that are able to withstand more efficient herbicides. Farmers would not need to drive out to the fields and spray as often, which in turn would reduce CO2 emissions from tractor exhausts.
In Denmark, the Plant Directorate is conducting field trials with Roundup and Basta-tolerant maize varieties, which are grown in many countries outside the EU.
Oilseed rape with better nitrogen intake
The production and use of nitrogen fertilisers results in the emission of large quantities of green-house gases. As a result, a GM oilseed rape has been developed that absorbs nitrogen from the soil more efficiently and therefore lessens the need for fertilisers.
This oilseed rape may help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with conventional types, and will probably be on the market within five years. Researchers around the world are currently working to develop the same qualities in, for example, wheat.
Drought-tolerant maize and wheat
Scientists around the world are developing genetically modified plants (e.g. strains of maize and wheat) that are capable of surviving drought.
A drought-resistant maize is expected to come onto the market in 4–5 years. Researchers are also working to develop genetically modified plants that use water more efficiently, so they only need half as much irrigation.
Crops such as these could have important consequences for agricultural production in many developing countries, where the impact of climate change will be particularly severe.
Coping with salty soil
A warmer climate means greater evaporation from agricultural land. This will increase the concentration of salt in the soil, which will make it difficult for ordinary crops to grow there. Work is currently underway to develop GM plants capable of growing in soils with a high salt concentration.
Improved animal feed
GM plants can also be used to make animal feed more climate-friendly. The transport and produc-tion of additives and enzymes for animal feed contributes to CO2 emissions. GM feed plants that do not require additives and enzymes would therefore reduce climate impact.
For example, China is close to being able to sell a type of maize that better utilises phosphates, as well as another type that requires fewer amino-acid additives.
In Denmark, the Plant Directorate is involved in the development of barley and wheat with a higher content of phosphorus and protein, which are important components of nutritional animal feed.
Maize with resistance to corn borer
Several companies have developed genetically modified maize capable of resisting attacks from European corn borers. These insects have been moving progressively northward in recent years as a result of climate change, and have already caused lower crop yields in Germany and Poland.
GM maize has also been developed that is resistant to the corn rootworm, which attacks maize roots and cuts yields. The corn rootworm is also spreading throughout Europe and is expected to reach Denmark as the climate warms up.
Potatoes with Colorado beetle resistance
GM potatoes have been developed that are resistant to attack by the Colorado beetle. The warmer winters of recent years mean that the Colorado beetle has been able to establish itself more firmly in the southern parts of the country. As the climate warms further, it is expected to become a significant threat to Danish potatoes.
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change