Using Climate-Smart Rice to Reduce Methane Emissions from Agriculture

by Polina Checherina for the CCAC Secretariat - 1 December, 2022
In Thailand and Pakistan, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition has funded projects to improve the sustainability of the rice sector by reducing methane emissions through mitigation efforts.

Rice is a staple crop for half the world's population, making paddy rice production crucial across the world, particularly in Asia where demand for rice is especially high. Thailand and Pakistan are two examples of Asian nations where a significant part of the population relies on rice crops as their main source of food and income. In 2019, around 4.2 million farming households in Thailand relied on rice cultivation and 31% of Thailand’s working population was employed in the agricultural sector. But currently, paddy rice production also contributes to climate change: the industry is responsible for about 40 million tonnes of methane, or 8% of global anthropogenic emissions, per year. In both Thailand and Pakistan, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition has funded projects to improve the sustainability of the rice sector by reducing methane emissions through mitigation efforts.

Methane, a dangerous short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP), is responsible for 40% of global warming and contributes to the increase of tropospheric ozone pollution, which causes over a million premature deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization. In paddy rice production, methane is produced by the anaerobic decay of organic material which occurs in continuously flooded rice paddies. Additionally, the fertilization used in paddy rice production requires nitrous oxide, another source of SLCP pollution. Rice production in Thailand represents 57.7% of Thailand's total agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and in Pakistan rice production is responsible for 7.83 Mt CO2-eq per year. 

Thailand and Pakistan are both working to reduce their SLCP emissions, as stated in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) both countries have submitted to the UNFCCC. In 2020, Thailand announced its plan to reduce GHG emissions by 20% from projected business-as-usual levels by 2030. The updated NDC submitted by Thailand aims to increase reductions by 25% and includes a goal to introduce mitigation measures that promote technology implementation, innovation, and capacity building to support practices for sustainable climate-smart agriculture, such as low-methane rice production.

In order to reach the ambitious goals that Thailand and Pakistan have established in their NDCs, both countries need to scale up low methane rice production while making it more sustainable. A CCAC-funded project in Thailand and Pakistan, implemented by UNEP ROAP (Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific) with the support of national consultants, aims to examine the measurement, reporting, and verification systems (MRV) needed to track the adoption of sustainable rice production practices. Examples of these practices include reducing water consumption and fertilizer usage, as well as alternate wetting and drying, which could mitigate as much as 48% of global methane emissions from the industry.

Project implementers in Pakistan and Thailand have concentrated their efforts on monitoring, technology assessments, and capacity-building, including by conducting country-specific scoping studies on how to scale up low-methane rice production. Critical to achieving methane reductions is ensuring that measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems are implemented. This will allow farmers to track and measure the amount of methane emitted by the production field.  

Examples from Pakistan 

In Pakistan, the first steps towards implementing MRV systems for tracking rice methane have already been taken via a set of IT systems for the Global Change Impact Studies Center. In addition, studies conducted in Pakistan have brought into account past and ongoing projects and policies on climate smart rice practices to formulate a roadmap for NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action) that policymakers in Pakistan can use to successfully achieve their NDC targets and other commitments. These studies discuss in detail the challenges and opportunities in the rice paddy sector and the perceptions, plans, and concerns of local farmers, agricultural businesses, and government officials, as well as additional stakeholders.

One study finds that stakeholders in Pakistan, including farmers and policy-makers, are well aware of the risks and opportunities of climate change and its impacts on the rice paddy sector. According to the study, the project shows great potential for climate change mitigation in the paddy rice sector given the interest and involvement of different stakeholders, variety of the rice incentives, and the road map that has been developed. The project implementers have also developed intervention packages for Pakistan that include recommendations for technology transfer, capacity development, technical assistance for data management, climate mitigation finance and research, and development to reduce SLCPs, especially methane. 

Lessons from Thailand 

In Thailand, an initial scoping study showed high potential for information and communication technology tools to support the measurement, reporting, and verification of paddy rice emissions. Financing mechanisms such as green loans, improved crop insurance, socially responsible contract farming, multi-donor funds carbon credits, and green bonds for sustainable rice are already available in Thailand. In the future, projects should concentrate on providing incentives to stakeholders to mitigate emissions from rice production. 

The results of the study could jumpstart action, such as fostering sustainable rice management, building capacity in a multi-stakeholder approach, assisting the private sector with decision support tools, and scaling up SLCP mitigation packages at the national scale. Although rice MRV systems in Thailand have not been fully integrated into greenhouse gas emissions MRV systems either at the national or the project level, there is interest in making rice production more sustainable. This means there is now an opportunity to develop a more holistic system to consolidate existing tools and datasets, which will provide support to farmers and lower the transaction cost of data measurement and processing.  

Another result of the project is a roadmap to strengthen national and project-level greenhouse gas data quality for sustainable development impacts in rice production that can be used in future projects for emissions mitigation. As a financial initiative, the adoption of alternate wetting and drying, which can reduce GHG emissions and generate carbon credits was researched in Thailand as a possible incentive for farmers and local producers to reduce their emissions. 

Next Steps

These projects are a part of the CCAC’s broader work to change the practices of paddy rice production and make it more sustainable. With the help of UNEP-ROAP, the CCAC is now equipped with country-specific knowledge, data and tools, and roadmaps that could help rapidly mitigate methane emissions from paddy rice production. But in order for this faster, more efficient action to actually happen, more stakeholders must be engaged, and the right financial incentives and policy regulations need to be in place.



Pollutants (SLCPs)