Agricultural implications of the COP26 methane commitment – EURACTIV.com
The agriculture sector, one of the world’s largest contributors of methane, will be directly affected by the world’s first pledge to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030.
The new Global Methane Pledge was announced in the early days of COP26, the crucial United Nations climate conference still underway in Glasgow.
According to estimates by the European Commission, the promised 30% could reduce projected warming by at least 0.2 degrees Celsius by 2050.
Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) which, despite its short lifespan, has more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide, trapping 84 times more heat in 20 years.
Enteric fermentation – gaseous emissions from ruminants such as dairy cattle and beef cattle – is considered the greatest source of methane in terms of human activities. Next comes the rice sector, where underwater microbes in rice paddies emit gas, accounting for 20% of human-made methane emissions.
According to Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy at the last United Nations Food Systems Summit, the commitment creates the opportunity for food systems to be a climate solution by reducing emissions associated with agriculture.
The initiative was spearheaded by the US and the EU, which brought together 103 other countries that together account for 46% of global methane emissions and account for 70% of the global economy. They included several countries rich in livestock like Brazil, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand.
However, some countries with high methane emissions have chosen to stay out of the pledge, including China, India, Australia and Russia.
Innovation and behavioral measures
The global commitment focuses on technical measures such as animal feed supplements which the UN says can reduce emissions from the sector by 20% per year until 2030.
Science and technology can help achieve the cut by supporting innovative food ingredients that minimize methane emissions from enteric fermentation.
New methodologies to quantify or estimate enteric methane emissions from cattle rearing systems have been promoted in recent years.
A method of generating localized data on methane and nitrous oxide emissions from livestock is already being implemented in Kenya, using this system to report baseline GHG emissions to the UN.
While welcoming the initiative, environmental activists have been disappointed by the lack of reference to behavioral measures such as changing diets or tackling food waste, which can result in up to 57% reduction over the course of decades, according to several NGOs.
For Harriett Bradley of the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), the commitment includes cuts in agricultural emissions, but only on the production and consumption side.
“The focus here is on efficiency improvements such as food additives to reduce methane,” she told EURACTIV, adding that there was no question of reducing meat consumption or to switch to more plant-based diets, especially in rich countries.
Methane reductions in the EU
The EU has taken steps to reduce its methane production since 1996, when the Commission planned to cut emissions from landfills by almost half.
But at the end of October, the European Parliament asked the Commission for the first time for a legislative proposal to link methane emission targets as part of measures to combat climate change.
Environmental activists hailed the news, with Humane Society International saying it showed MEPs were resisting “cynical attempts” to weaken language on shows associated with animal agriculture.
While the EU farmers association COPA-COGECA said it supports this initiative in principle, it regretted a new call to the Commission to set binding measures and reduction targets.
“Given their realities on the ground, farmers should have the discretion to choose the best practices and measures to implement,” they said in a note.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]