Green body may help meat producers cut carbon emissions

By Mark Rowe

- Last updated on GMT

A new hope: meat leaders welcome deal on climate change
A new hope: meat leaders welcome deal on climate change

Related tags Climate change Agriculture Greenhouse gas Beef Pork

An enhanced technology assistance scheme to help spread best livestock and arable farming practice around the world is likely to emerge from the Paris climate change conference talks.

The creation of a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was initially proposed seven years ago. But it is expected to be given an enhanced and more meaningful role following any agreement forged at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC (or ‘COP 21’) meeting. A key goal would be to disseminate low-carbon technology in the meat sector.

The move was welcomed by many sector experts, including Dr Jonathan Scurlock, chief renewable energy and climate change adviser at the UK’s National Farmers’ Union, who said: “There’s a recognition that sooner or later we are going to have to share our technology with others.

There’s no point or gain in us rearing low-methane cows if China’s industry has appallingly high rates of methane.​” 

Martin Merrild, president of the Copa wing of European agriculture organisation Copa-Cogeca, agreed that bad environmental practice could not be allowed to continue in developing parts of the world. “It makes no sense to solve the climate problem by cutting production in Europe just to build it up elsewhere​,” he said.

China should 'make similar commitments' 

Our partners across the world need to make similar commitments. This needs to be done in a balanced way, to ensure safe food supplies to feed a growing world population.

Innovative solutions that reduce the climate footprint whilst also increasing the output of food, feed and bio-based products can serve as a model and inspiration for farmers and their cooperatives all over the world. Perhaps the best European solutions can be found in areas such as crop production, animal feed, breeding techniques and using co-products such as straw and slurry. Any environmentally successful agreement in Paris must focus on research and on adaptation and mitigation.​”

Meanwhile, meat industry leaders have welcomed the inclusion of meat and agriculture in the provisional final text of the proposed agreement. “It shows there’s an understanding that cutting emissions is not just about cutting carbon or preserving rainforests, that it’s about meat and agriculture, the fact people need to eat​,” said Scurlock.

A new 'hope'​ 

There’s greater hope for a sensible deal, there are more heads of state here and more of them recognise they need to produce low-carbon energy.​”

Paris has also seen talk of enhancing finance and equity release for climate-smart agriculture, such as innovative nitrogen fixation measures to reduce fertiliser use. In addition to the SBSTA initiative, this may well include an expansion of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Eight million poor smallholders, mainly cattle owners, already benefit from IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme.

As for any final agreement, Hsin Huang, secretary general of the International Meat Secretariat said it was possible the direct emissions cuts might prove to be less burdensome than feared for the meat sector. “Governments are presenting targets for national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but they can choose where these reductions come from,​” he said.

They could choose to make all the reductions in fossil fuels and choose to leave agriculture alone because it is much more complicated and politically sensitive.​”

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