Uruguay's Minister of Agriculture on tackling enteric methane

by Tabaré Aguerre, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries of Uruguay - 21 July, 2017
Uruguay is working towards low-cost strategies to reduce enteric methane emissions, contribute to social and economic development, and increase resilience to climate change

Uruguay is a small country with a population of 3.5 million but it feeds approximately 30 million people. Agriculture is a key part of Uruguay’s economy, representing 70% of all its exports. At the same time, the agriculture sector contributes to about 80% of Uruguay’s greenhouse gas emissions, of which 55% are from enteric fermentation.

The country has turned this challenge into a key opportunity for climate action with its strategy to reduce emissions intensity through improved production efficiency and productivity in beef production systems. Given that 65% of Uruguay’s land is covered by natural grasslands and pastureland, this strategy is complemented by sequestering carbon in soils and biomass, where possible.

Uruguay is working with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) on reducing methane from enteric fermentation, which will also improve food security and livelihoods. As a result of this work, Uruguay has accessed tools to increase capacity at the national level in order to reach 30-35% improved productivity while reducing emissions and achieving certified production.

Tabaré Aguerre Mensaje Salutacion a FAO
Video: Tabaré Aguerre's message to FAO (video is in Spanish)
Remote video URL

Climate action commitments

Uruguay demonstrated early its commitment to voluntary action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is among the 120 countries that have submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). NDCs are the primary means by which governments can state what steps they will take in the context of their national priorities, circumstances and capabilities to address climate change.

Agriculture is well represented in Uruguay’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) where the country has made a clear commitment to adopt a low-carbon growth agenda with ambitious targets that address both climate change mitigation and adaptation. This commitment sustains Uruguay’s belief in maintaining its image as a reliable beef producer but also as an environmentally responsible one. Uruguay is one of the few countries that has quantified its emissions from the agriculture sector by production system, greenhouse gas and source of emissions.

In the INDCs submitted to the UNFCCC in 2015, Uruguay set a specific target for the agriculture sector to reduce enteric methane emissions intensity per kilogram of beef (live-weight) by 33% to 46% in 2030 through the widespread application of improved practices and technologies.

Cows - Uruguay
The agriculture sector contributes to about 80% of Uruguay’s greenhouse gas emissions, of which 55% are from enteric fermentation.

Enteric methane

With continued support from the CCAC, GRA and FAO, Uruguay is involved in the project “Reducing Enteric Methane for improving food security and livelihoods.” The objective of this study is to support Uruguay in identifying low-cost strategies to reduce enteric methane emissions while contributing to Uruguay’s short-and long-term social and economic development and increasing resilience to climate change.

This collaborative effort will support Uruguay by improving the quality of its emissions inventory, better defining its reduction targets in terms of emissions intensity, and improving understanding of the impacts of measures to improve productivity, production system efficiency and the agriculture sector's reproduction system.

Access to reliable data has built Uruguay’s confidence that its contribution to food security does not compromise food production but rather increases productivity. Uruguay’s commitment on mitigation is to reduce methane emissions per unit (per kilo) of product produced and to reduce gross emissions where possible. With this objective in mind, Uruguay's ministers are working in collaboration and across sectors to certify and differentiate production while meeting the SDG goal of reducing hunger and the country’s target to reduce emissions intensity.

Uruguay believes that it can have a strategy on climate mitigation, adaptation, and resiliency combined with a productive strategy, called “multiple – win strategy”.

Access to reliable data has built Uruguay’s confidence that its contribution to food security does not compromise food production but rather increases productivity.
Tabaré Aguerre

Data-driven approach

In this project the Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) - a  geographic information systems (GIS) modelling framework developed by FAO that simulates the interaction of activities and processes involved in livestock production and the environment – has been applied to evaluate a broad perspective of opportunities and the potential achievable goals in terms of productivity gains and emissions intensity reduction potential for the beef sector.

The scenario analysis supported Uruguay in improving its knowledge base and indicators and enhancing emissions inventory data and the levels of emissions from enteric methane from the beef production system. The analysis provides a set of measures to improve the sector’s productivity and environmental management.

The study found that significant reductions in emissions can be achieved through the combination of herd and health management, nutrition and feeding management strategies, and genetics, with an estimated reduction potential of 23%-42% in emission intensity and an increase in production (expressed in live-weight terms) of 40-50% compared to the baseline situation.

Uruguay’s commitment and national action serves as an example of where partnership can help build the evidence base and mobilize countries to take climate action.