Global leaders can’t fulfill their methane promises without agriculture

Methane pollution from energy, agriculture and other industries has emerged as a key focal point at COP26 as more than 100 countries, representing two-thirds of the global economy, pledged to cut methane emissions 30% by 2030.

This is a huge step.

Methane is one of the most potent GHGs that is expected to cause half of the projected temperature rise over the next two decades. By reducing emissions of methane — which has more than 80 times the near-term warming power of carbon dioxide — we can hit the brakes on the increasingly rapid warming responsible for stronger storms and hotter fire seasons.

Driving down methane from agriculture, fast

Agriculture is the largest source of human-caused methane emissions globally — approximately 40% — and livestock alone accounts for approximately one-third of all methane emissions.

Working with producers to reduce methane emissions is one of the most impactful ways to reduce temperature increases today while we work towards a net zero global economy. Doing so will also benefit producers and their business partners by reducing the risk and economic uncertainty associated with inaction.

Meeting ambitious global methane commitments is a tall order and answering it will take every tool in the toolbox, including both the conventional and the innovative.

In the U.S. and around the world, there are practical solutions to reducing livestock emissions, such as improved manure management with methane capture technology and improved forage and feed. Financial institutions and supply chain partners have a key role to play in helping farmers overcome financial and technical barriers to putting these solutions in place at the pace and scale needed.

In addition to its potent effect on climate, concentrated livestock production also has localized impacts on water quality, pollution and odor that often affect local communities.

In July this year, the Global Dairy Platform launched the Pathways to Dairy Net Zero initiative. More than 80 leading organizations representing over 30% of global milk production have declared their support for the initiative to accelerate climate change action throughout the global dairy sector.

This is a great step, but to get to deep emission reductions from both manure and enteric emissions generated during digestion (yes, cow burps), we must also tap the great well of innovation that has made the global agriculture sector the force it is today.

Closing the innovation gap to reach the agriculture system of tomorrow

Closing the innovation gap between today’s tools and what is needed to avoid a climate catastrophe will require developing new tools and technologies for a large range of livestock operations, from grazing herds to confined animal operations.

New technologies like cattle feed supplements to cut enteric emissions are under development and we must ensure they will be effective and affordable across the great diversity of global livestock operations. EDF estimates potential for up to 50% reduction from manure and up to 20% from enteric emissions in the U.S. by 2030 from current emissions levels.

Soon, MethaneSAT will begin providing the highest-precision methane data available at a global scale, accelerating opportunities for targeted reductions. This data will be essential as livestock methane emission sources remain diffuse. Providing accessible and actionable on-farm methane data will be a global game-changer for farmers, who are best positioned to turn the data into results.

Additional technology investments like those announced through the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, which has committed over $4 billion for climate-smart agricultural innovation, will help achieve the breakthroughs needed to meet this methane moment.

In combination with swift action from energy and other industrial sectors, the 30% methane reductions by 2030 goal is well within reach. We just need to help agriculture to play its part.

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