A campaign group says governments need to be more aggressive in tackling agriculture-related methane emissions if they are serious about combatting climate change.
The Changing Markets Foundation argues the Global Methane Pledge promoted at this week’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, does not go far enough. It believes a more “transformative” approach is required to encourage people to adopt plant-based diets.
The group, which published a report last week criticising the global meat and dairy industry over the performance in cutting CH4 emissions, says it will be pressing authorities to set company-specific regulations.
More than 100 countries joined the Pledge this week – an initiative first revealed in September with less than ten signatories – to reduce methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade. China and Russia, and also Australia, a major meat and dairy producer, were not party to the commitment.
“It’s not enough,” Nusa Urbancic, a campaign director at Changing Markets, tells Just Food, adding “the 30% target is really problematic because it’s a collective target.
Science says at least 45% is needed by 2030 and this gap could be bridged with more transformative action on agriculture.
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“I hope governments will come up with some type of process where they will be able to ramp up this ambition as soon as possible because methane is an urgent issue. We shouldn’t only be looking at the energy sector, we should also be looking at agriculture, which is the biggest source.”
Adopting a plant-based diet devoid of dairy and meat would go some way toward addressing the methane issue, Urbancic says, pointing to the downside of consuming too much meat believed to contribute to health-related diseases such as diabetes and certain types of cancers.
“They are stopping short of going the whole way, which is basically reducing emissions also by reforming the food systems, like moving to diets with less meat and dairy. And governments taking a more active approach.”
She continues: “Latin America, North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, they consume more than twice the amount of meat that is considered healthy. These kinds of measures would not just be good for the climate they would be really good for health and good for the budgets of those countries.”
Urbancic adds more people switching to plant-based meat and dairy might just be the tonic to encourage individual countries to adopt a more active approach on their own doorsteps.
“It’s also an issue where maybe we’ll see much more action by consumers. So hopefully that will also signal to governments that they have to take this food system transformation more seriously.”
Just Food has approached the European Dairy Association for a reaction to the methane pledge and the measures its members are taking to cut emissions and offer more plant-based options. However, the EDA had not responded at the time of writing.
A Pledge document outlined a commitment to “take comprehensive domestic actions” to meet the 2030 target, “focusing on standards to achieve all feasible reductions in the energy and waste sectors and seeking abatement of agricultural emissions through technology innovation as well as incentives and partnerships with farmers”.
Responding to last weeks Changing Markets report, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, said it was seeking to halve total emissions by 2030 on its path to net zero by 2050.
“The roadmap contains information on Nestlé’s scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions for all greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane. Two thirds of Nestlé’s greenhouse gas emissions stem from the production of food ingredients. Reducing emissions from agriculture – including dairy and livestock ingredients – is crucial to achieving our net-zero target.”
According to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a sustainability organisation in California, “methane is responsible for almost half the [global] warming we have already experienced”.
The Hewlett Foundation is one of 20 organisations that have committed US$328m to “fund actions to decrease methane emissions around the world”, inspired by the Global Methane Pledge, to which the US and EU are also party.
“Precisely because it is such a potent, short-term pollutant, putting methane reduction on a fast-track is among the most effective steps we can take at this moment to reduce warming in both the near and long term,” it said.
Reiterating observations in Changing Markets ‘Blindspot’ report, Urbancic says governments should “oblige” meat and dairy companies to set science-based targets on methane and report them separately within the greenhouse gas emissions framework.
Another pledge emerged from COP26 this week to end deforestation, with Brazilian meat giant JBS and US commodities major Cargill among ten agri-food companies to sign up to the 2030 plan to develop a “sectoral roadmap” by the next summit in November 2022.
Within that commitment, Urbancic says the agriculture system and land use become ever more important.
“The fact that production of meat and dairy is using 80% of our agricultural land, this is really critical when it comes to deforestation commitments. We’re relying on how forests will absorb the carbon that is in the atmosphere but we’re not able to do this if we keep dedicating so much land to production of protein that is pretty inefficient.”