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While only a few million people call Uruguay home, the South American nation produces enough food to feed an estimated 30 million people around the world. Beef is vital to Uruguay’s economy, accounting for 70 per cent of its exports. But the meat also takes a major toll on the environment, emitting 62 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate-smart agricultural strategies, however, offer an opportunity for countries like Uruguay to continue to be economically viable while also building a safer planet for the future and reducing climate vulnerability in food systems.
“Uruguay is an eminently export-oriented country and wants to position itself as a food producer that also values the environment,” said Cecilia Jones of Uruguay’s Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP). “Although the country is responsible for 0.03% of global emissions, its national climate change policy and the Nationally Determined Contributions under Uruguay’s commitment to the Paris Agreement demonstrate its commitments to developing while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”
Although [Uruguay] is responsible for 0.03% of global emissions, its national climate change policy and the Nationally Determined Contributions under Uruguay’s commitment to the Paris Agreement demonstrate its commitments to developing while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”Cecilia Jones
The CCAC is supporting Uruguay to implement agricultural practices that reduce the methane emitted by enteric fermentation, which is caused by the digestive process in cattle, sheep, and other animals. The CCAC’s Global Methane Assessment demonstrates that human-caused methane emissions can be reduced by up to 45 per cent this decade, which would avoid nearly 0.3°C of global warming by 2045. Methane is a key ingredient in the formation of ground-level ozone, a powerful climate forcer and dangerous air pollutant, which means that a 45 per cent reduction would prevent 260,000 premature deaths. A critical methane reduction strategy is decreasing emissions intensity in the agricultural sector.
The project Ganaderia y Clima is helping Uruguay’s ranchers carry out climate-smart farming, in partnership with the CCAC, Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Uruguay’s Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries. The National Agricultural Research Institute (INIA), the Faculty of Agronomy and farmer’s organizations are also key partners of the project.
The project, which began two years ago, worked collaboratively with farmers at 60 ranches to develop techniques such as managing and improving grass and feed, managing cattle body fat reserves, and carefully monitoring and recording emissions. The project selected and trained 11 experts to teach these ranchers how to make their farms more economically productive and environmentally sustainable, helping to build technical capacity and leadership domestically.
The CCAC also provided support in monitoring the methane emissions of these 60 farms, and evaluating the impact of the changes in practice on emissions intensity.
Just one year after the project started, Felipe Garcia, Deputy Coordinator of the Livestock and Climate project at FAO Uruguay, reported that the project had seen significant success, even in the midst of severe droughts. Emissions intensity per unit of product decreased while overall beef production increased by 6 per cent and sheep production increased by 15 per cent. Some 60 per cent of the participating farms increased their net income by 50 per cent from the previous year.
Two years after it started, the project has seen even stronger impacts — despite ongoing drought so severe that it caused a national agricultural emergency — the farms that were part of the program saw a 9 percent increase in meat production and 32 percent increase in income. Moreover, emissions reduced significantly, avoiding 1,779 and 3,273 tons of CO2 equivalent in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 fiscal years, avoiding a total of 5,051 CO2 equivalent.
For every hectare of land, the project reduced emissions by 6.3 percent in the first year and 10.5 percent in the second year — primarily thanks to decreases in stocking rates. Emissions reduced by 16 percent for every kilogram of meat in the first year, and 23.5% in the second year — largely thanks to increases in each animal’s productivity.
The project has generated information vital to Uruguay’s development. It has significantly improved the accuracy of the country’s methane emissions measurement system using the IPCC Tier 2 method in the Agriculture sector of the national GHG inventory. It has also strengthened the country’s Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) — a critical tool in ensuring the efficacy of climate action — when it comes to including enteric methane emissions in Uruguay’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), or its national commitment to climate change under the Paris Agreement. This information will help Uruguay design better mitigation policies, technology transfers to producers, and identify ways to increase ambition when it comes to Uruguay’s next NDC.
The results of the project are already contributing to advances at the national policy level. Uruguay is currently developing a sustainable livestock strategy and a livestock emissions mitigation plan based on its results. The project has also helped catalyse World Bank funding in the amount of US$ 52.50 million through the “Agroecological and Resilient Systems in Uruguay" Project, which is helping to scale up the climate-smart and productive livestock strategies that this project successfully demonstrated.
The projects are a part of Uruguay’s broader commitments to action on climate and clean air, including the country’s Long Term Climate Strategy which aims for climate neutrality by 2050. In 2020, Uruguay also committed to the Global Methane Pledge, agreeing to take voluntary actions to contribute to a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030, which could eliminate over 0.2˚C warming by 2050.
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