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Livestock are responsible for over 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, about 44 percent of them in the form of methane, a toxic short-lived climate pollutant dozens of times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the problem is only getting worse. In Africa, demand for livestock is expected to increase by 80 percent between 2010 and 2030. In Asia, where consumption is already high, a 78 percent increase in meat and seafood is expected by 2050, requiring a land mass the size of India to produce it.
It’s tough bind for global food production: If business as usual continues, the emissions could be disastrous. In regions like Africa and Asia already struggling with food security and nutrition (and where climate change is likely to exacerbate those problems), the sector must expand to feed a growing population.
“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III, when its Special Report on Climate Change and Land was released earlier this year.
The upshot is that the report also found that, with significant global action, agriculture can be a solution rather than a liability.
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) is supporting just this transformation by helping countries promote farming practices that reduce short-lived climate pollutants like methane. These practices include improving the efficiency of animals and herds with strategies such as using better feeds and feeding techniques which can reduce methane generated during digestion as well as the amount of methane and nitrous oxide released by decomposing manure.
Vietnam, where agriculture is responsible for a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions—with livestock and rice production being primary sources—is an example of one country paving the way to doing just that. Not only did Vietnam include agricultural mitigation into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NCD), or their national plan to reduce emissions, they included specific actions and priorities. This specificity was enabled in part by assistance from the CCAC’s Solutions Center, which helped Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) work with the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD) to update the agriculture component in Vietnam's NDC and develop Vietnam’s Plan to implement the Paris Agreement for the Agriculture Sector from 2021-2030.
“The support that it provides gives us the chance to have deeper insight and analysis, a better scientific basis to support selecting appropriate measures in reducing greenhouse gases,” said Tran Dai Nghia of Ipsard.
In Vietnam’s NDC, the country committed to reducing its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent. Within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), the intention was to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent while reducing poverty by 20 percent and increasing productivity by 20 percent—ambitious goals that CCAC was excited to support.
We don’t want to push the burden of mitigation on the shoulder of the small scale farmers so we try to find the best mitigation strategies that will have co-benefits”Tran Dai Nghia
Determining exactly how to do this, however, is complex. To know exactly how to mitigate greenhouse gases requires in depth understanding of exactly what is causing them and how to not offload mitigation strategies onto people who are already vulnerable.
“We don’t want to push the burden of mitigation on the shoulder of the small scale farmers so we try to find the best mitigation strategies that will have co-benefits,” said Tran Dai Nghia of IPSARD. “What will mitigate the climate change intensity of the greenhouse gas emissions while creating social benefits like jobs, improving the health of the farmer, poverty reduction, food security, and improving air quality.”
Given that agricultural emissions are predominantly methane, there are a lot of co-benefits to reducing it. Methane is a short-lived climate pollutant that only sticks around in the atmosphere for about 12 years but is much more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping radiation—84 times greater over the course of 20 years.
Methane itself isn’t harmful to humans or crops but it is a precursor to tropospheric ozone which is a harmful air pollutant responsible for one million premature respiratory deaths globally, or one in five of all respiratory deaths. In this case, reducing it isn’t just a solution to mitigating climate change, it can also benefit health and food security in the near-term.
Vietnam’s quandary was a perfect opportunity for the CCAC’s Solution Center, which provides small-scale funding for a specific goal: helping the government of a developing country to achieve a real outcome, such as a policy or other action that can lead to emissions reductions. Compared to traditional funding, the Solution Center can move relatively quickly, disbursing needed funds fast.
When Vietnam was approved, they received funding in the form of expert support to carry out a survey to develop a better evidence base for intervening in the agricultural sector.
With the help of the CCAC’s Solution Center, Nghia sent out a questionnaire to all 63 of Vietnam’s provinces to better understand the livestock sector, and therefore how to improve it. In Vietnam, 69 percent of farmers are small holders, making this kind of information gathering complicated and labour-intensive.
The survey helped calculate the greenhouse gas emissions from each segment of livestock production: Cows, chickens, ducks, buffalos, and pigs at both the farm and the household level. The survey also helped calculate the reduction potential of various mitigation practices, including different types of waste management, such as biogas systems, biogas digester systems, composting to create fertilizer for crops, and changing the type of feed that’s used. This is one of the solution center’s strengths: helping countries to gather the proof and evidence to enhance meaningful action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.
“The results provided from CCAC supported project are very helpful in terms of providing scientific bases for selecting feasible mitigation options of agriculture sector being included in the NDC of Vietnam,” said Ngai.
Through the research, they were able to rank the overall priorities of each mitigation measure at the farm level, with manure composting and a biogas system being the most important, followed by feed mix and as well as at the household level, which had similar results.
In Vietnam, like most countries around the world, waste from livestock production is a growing cause of greenhouse gas emissions. Almost half of livestock raising households in Vietnam have not carried out any waste treatment measures, making it an area ripe for intervention.
It isn’t just the livestock sector benefiting from the smart mitigation techniques Vietnam is undertaking with the help of CCAC.
Paddy rice is a staple crop for Vietnam and a great deal of the world but it also has some sobering environmental implications: it is responsible for 10 percent of global methane emissions each year
One of these measures, already being implemented in Vietnam (as well as Bangladesh and Colombia) is intermittently aerating, or drying out, rice paddies, a practice that could reduce emissions from rice farming by a third. Other methods include reducing the use of water, seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides and alternating rice farming with shrimp or fish farming in the same field.
Vietnam has a plan of action to apply alternate wetting and drying techniquest to 200,000 hectares, which it hopes to increase to 500,000 with international support, which it also included in its NDC’s.
It’s a perfect example of the potential for CCAC’s Agriculture Initiative, which is working around the world to raise the ambition of individual countries’ NCDs by including short-lived climate pollutants in their plans for mitigation. As more countries are able to gather the kind of evidence Vietnam did with the help of CCAC’s Solutions Center, the agriculture sector can truly be transformed from an escalating problem to a worldwide solution.
Our Expert Assistance is a no-cost service that connects you to an extensive network of professionals for consultation and advice on a range of short-lived climate pollution issues and policies.
Experts will provide guidance on technological options, mitigation measures (like those carried out by our initiatives), funding opportunities, application of measurement tools, and policy development.