Livestock

Reducing Methane Emissions

New evidence demands urgent action to reduce methane emissions

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to call for dramatic reductions in methane emissions. 

The panel of leading climate scientists are expected to publish their sixth assessment report on Monday 9 August 2021 which is a comprehensive review of the world’s knowledge of the climate crisis. 

It is expected to show that human actions are altering the planet and detail how close the world is to irreversible change. 

The Guardian reports their assessment is that methane is playing an even greater role in overheating the planet. 

Fossil fuels, cattle and rotting waste produce large volumes of methane - a greenhouse gas responsible for 30% of global heating. 

Methane is over 80 times more potent in trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and has caused about 30% of global heating to date.

But it breaks down in the atmosphere within about a decade, unlike CO2, which remains in the air for centuries.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a lead reviewer for the IPCC highlights that reducing methane is probably the only way to reduce the temperature rise of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels: “Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040.”

According to the UN environment programme 2020 saw the highest recorded levels of methane in the atmosphere and this has risen sharply in recent years, caused by shale gas, poorly managed conventional gas, oil drilling and meat production. Satellite data shows that some of the key sources of methane are poorly managed Russian oil and gas wells.

Soil Association responds with call to move to more sustainable diets 

Soil Association’s Head of Food and Health Policy Rob Percival said: “This is a stark warning about the pace of climate change and the need for radical action on agricultural methane emissions.

We know that we need to change our diet and reduce our consumption of intensively produced meat but this latest research brings the urgency of the challenge into focus. 

“Methane is a potent climate change gas which is emitted by extracting and burning fossil fuels.

However, it is also a major emission from ruminants in livestock farming. Intensive cattle farming is responsible for vast volumes of methane emitted into the atmosphere every year and the production of feed for these industrial systems also puts intense pressure on natural habitats and resources. We need to take immediate action to change how we produce our meat and the volume of meat we consume.

Consumers prepared to make diet changes

Recent research by the Soil Association shows that 72% of shoppers are thinking about reducing their meat consumption and the latest YouGov data shows that 85% of consumers want to reduce the environmental impact of their food.

The Soil Association advocates less and better meat and a swift transition from intensive livestock farming to agroecological and organic systems which are more nature friendly and are one of the key solutions for the climate crisis. This approach has been endorsed in the recent National Food Strategy which recommends a shift in the UK to agroecology and a 30% reduction in the levels of meat eaten in the UK by 2032. 

Rob continues: “A rapid transition to agroecological farming offers a healthier and more sustainable approach to producing our food and requires a shift in our diets to less and better meat with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables and the consumption of more pulses and legumes. There is a role for appropriate livestock farming in agroecological systems where they play a significant role encouraging biodiversity and fertilising the soil.” 

Agroecological and organic farming and shifting diets can be part of the climate crisis solution

Rob said: “We need to see true leadership in tackling the climate crisis from the Government. As we head to the COP26 climate summit we need to see a bold policy response that supports producers, processors and retailers to make our foods healthier and more sustainable and to limit the impact that they have on the planet.

“If we act quickly to tackle the level of industrial livestock farming and dramatically reduce the number of ruminants in the supply chain methane can be put on a downward trajectory which would have a rapid cooling effect.”

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