Potential interventions are myriad but the report focuses on the ones that could provide Uruguay, and many other countries, the most bang for its buck. In other words, how can a country slice the maximum amount of greenhouse gas emissions while still increasing beef production? Perhaps most importantly, the report focuses on solutions that are feasible for farmers, who tend to operate on slim margins under already tough working conditions around the world.
One of these is improving and increasing cattle nutrition. Almost 90 percent of cattle food in Uruguay is derived from poor quality, native pastures. Adding grass legumes or fodder crops could help cows grow faster and larger, producing fewer emissions by the time they reach maturity. This has the potential to reduce emission intensity by up to 51 percent.
Another target is breeding practices. Artificial insemination, for example, could reduce emission intensity by 29 to 40 percent by cutting the number of replacement breeding animals needed and improving the herd’s reproductive efficiency with superior genetics. Cross breeding could similarly increase cattle growth rates and weight.
In all likelihood, farmers would employ some combinations of these strategies, paired with other interventions like reducing fertilizer use or carbon sequestration from better management of grazing land. Used collectively, reductions could be even more dramatic.
Uruguay’s dependence on livestock makes it a particularly salient example but these methods have global applicability. In Argentina, similar strategies could reduce methane emissions by 72 percent. A 2017 CCAC report found that some of the same interventions in Bangladesh’s dairy sector, which contributes to 12 percent of the country’s GDP, could increase production by up to 27 percent while reducing emission intensity by around 17 percent. In developing countries like Bangladesh, where decreases in productivity can be a life or death proposition, these kinds of interventions are critical.
It isn’t just about livestock: The entire agricultural sector is responsible for over half of the non-carbon greenhouse gases created by human activity. Luckily, solutions exist in other areas as well. Regularly draining rice paddies in Vietnam and Bangladesh, for example, reduce methane emissions by up to 50 percent and water consumption by 30 percent. In India and Peru, developing alternatives to crop burning have reduced the practice by 90 percent in some villages. Collectively, these types of efforts could produce $33 billion in economic gains.
At a time when news about climate change is increasingly dire, including a recent report from the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights that suggests “Human rights might not survive the coming upheaval,” keeping in mind that feasible solutions exist matters more than ever.
One of the most difficult parts of the battle against climate change will be addressing short-term human needs to survive and thrive with the long-term consequences of a warming planet. Remembering that climate change interventions can be a win-win proposition, reducing emissions while increasing productivity, could be our greatest weapon.