Methane Mitigation Through Manure Management is Key to Successfully Transforming China’s Agricultural Sector

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition and China are working together to inform agricultural policy with cutting edge research

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Manure management in China. Photo: IEDA-CAAS
Improving the way manure is handled and stored is key to reducing methane methane emissions and supporting global climate goals.

China has pledged to stop increasing its emissions within the decade and to reach carbon neutrality by 2060. Improving agricultural productivity while lessening environmental impact will be paramount to achieving these goals and China is working with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to do so. One major strategy is integrating methane mitigation and carbon sequestration through manure management and land application into the country’s “Action Plan for Carbon Dioxide Peaking Before 2030,” which was issued in October and will guide the country’s climate policy for the next 10 years.

Animal manure is a valuable resource because it is nutritionally rich, has organic materials, and can be used for renewable energy. It also, however, produces methane when it is excreted, stored, treated, and applied to land as fertilizer. 

Methane is a major climate forcer as well as an air pollutant, which means that mitigation will boost China’s work towards carbon neutrality while also improving the country’s significant levels of air pollution. Livestock emissions from manure and enteric fermentation represent roughly 32 per cent of human-caused methane emissions.

The CCAC-UNEP Global Methane Assessment found that human-caused methane emissions can be cut by 45 per cent this decade, limiting global temperature rise while also saving 260,000 lives from air pollution, avoiding 775,000 asthma-related hospital visits, and 25 million tonnes of crop loss every year.

The CCAC supported its partners in China to provide agricultural policy recommendations for achieving carbon dioxide peaking before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. It also assisted with recommendations to heighten the ambition of the country’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which proposed using manure management to promote low carbon development in agriculture as a priority strategy for reducing emissions.

China recently announced their "14th Five-Year" National Agricultural Green Development Plan," the agricultural aspect of the national plan, and made manure management and utilization key elements. The plan also outlines the goal of controlling methane emissions from rice fields and constructing a recyclable agricultural system where both straw and animal waste are reused. 

Research developed in partnership with the CCAC on the most effective methane mitigation strategies was presented to the group drafting the work plan and the majority of the suggestions were included. These strategies include improved manure management systems such as carefully controlling the water, fertilizer, antibiotics, and type of feed, which can not only reduce emissions but can also increase agricultural production. A key contribution of the CCAC was developing baseline emissions scenarios and projections of emissions reductions based on different policy implementations, which helped to determine the most effective methane mitigation strategies. 

“Manure reutilization is a top priority issue when it comes to green agricultural development,” said Professor Dong Hongmin, the Deputy Director at the Institute of Environmental and Sustainable Development in Agriculture (IEDA) at the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences (CAAS), who worked with the CCAC on this project. “Not only will manure management help with China’s national efforts to become carbon neutral, it will also help with air pollution and improving soil quality and agricultural productivity.”

“Livestock farming is developing rapidly in China,” said Professor Li Yue, who is also at the Chinese Academy of Agriculture Sciences (CAAS) and worked with the CCAC on this project.  “Air pollution was very serious in the regions Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei during 2015-2017 and ammonia is one of the key driving forces of air pollution and manure is a major source of ammonia emissions.”

This work is likely to have a major global impact, given that 90 million Chinese houses have livestock, making the country responsible for almost half (47.6 per cent) of the world’s pigs and almost a quarter (24.6 per cent) of its poultry. It’s estimated that livestock are responsible for almost half (45.6 per cent) of the country’s agricultural emissions, in part from the 3,800 million tons of manure the country produces.

Given that China fulfilled all targets listed in its 13th Five-Year plan, it has a strong record of achievement to build off.

This work also supports China's policies to control environmental pollution from  manure management, including the 2014 “Regulations on the Prevention and Pollution Control for Intensive Livestock Operations” and the 2016 “Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Accelerating the Utilization of Waste Resources from Livestock.”

The CCAC also supported a workshop that brought together key players from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, agricultural universities and research institutions to disseminate the results of their research. This gathering of experts helped to refine the best practices for mitigation and spread expertise on the most effective way to implement them.

China has a strong history of manure mitigation. It issued four manure management policies to implement the “Opinions of the General Office of the State Council on Accelerating the Utilization of Waste Resources from Livestock.” These policies included an action plan for utilizing livestock manure in 2017, specifications for constructing manure utilization facilities in livestock and poultry farms, technical guidance for calculating the maximum number of animals a farm should have based on cropland area in 2018, and guidance on promoting the utilization of livestock and poultry manure. As a result of these policies, it’s estimated that the amount of manure China reused increased from less than 60 per cent in 2015 to as much as 75 per cent by the end of 2019.

“Manure management is a hot topic in China right now because it contributes to greenhouse gas mitigation as well as improving air pollution. I think this work will help attract investment,” said Hongmin.

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