The agricultural sector has a much greater impact on the climate than most realize, and its emissions differ in kind from the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the fossil fuel industry. While agriculture emits harmful amounts of carbon dioxide (mainly from on-farm energy use and land conversion), it also produces large amounts of methane (mainly from ruminant digestion and manure) and nitrous oxide (mainly from manure and manure). as well as changing the amount of carbon stored in vegetation and soil. These two greenhouse gases have a much stronger global warming effect than carbon dioxide. Recognizing the potential of these emissions, real climate impact of agricultureand the fact that emissions from the agriculture sector continue to increase while emissions from other sectors are decreasing under greenhouse gas reduction policies, we cannot achieve our climate targets without significantly reducing these emissions.
Agricultural methane is a particularly problematic source of emissions given its origins and scope. Agriculture produces more methane than the US oil and gas industry. The largest source of methane is enteric emissions from cows and sheep, animals whose ruminant stomachs produce large amounts of methane, which they inhale with each breath. It also comes from wet manure management systems (mainly in the swine and dairy industries) where manure is stored in large wastewater ponds or “lagoons”. Rice fields and food waste rotting in landfills also release methane, but animal agriculture remains the primary source. Efforts to reduce methane emissions from agriculture – of which there are few – have so far been unsuccessful and may actually have the opposite effect of increasing greenhouse gas emissions instead. For example, while paying close attention anaerobic digesters – using animal waste to generate energy – these systems do nothing to address enteric methane emissions. And digesters monetize waste, removing incentives to reduce overall fertilizer production and may even encourage herd size growth, which will ultimately increase enteric methane emissions as well as harmful odors and pollution that disproportionately harm environmental justice communities. Meanwhile, while initiatives such as feed additives such as seaweed or synthetic chemicals to reduce methane from cow burps reduce only a small fraction of emissions, producing seaweed on a scale necessary to be effective could pose a host of other sustainability issues.
Despite the impact of agricultural methane on our climate and the lack of effective mitigation strategies to date, the Biden Administration’s Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan (MERAP) recommends relying only on pre-established incentive-based and voluntary partnership programs to reduce emissions from this sector. While MERAP recommends updating and enforcing regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, it only recommends using tools already established under the Administration’s Climate Crisis Combat Executive Order and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently established climate smart. partnership initiative. We urge the administration to do more and seek stronger measures to monitor, report and mitigate. methane emissions from agriculture. Options include shifting manure management to systems that produce less methane, require methane retention from the largest producers, reduce herd size through demand-side measures (as has been done in the energy and transport sectors), and expand improved grazing systems.
Fortunately, the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers another opportunity to address methane emissions from agriculture. It provides approximately $20 billion to the US Department of Agriculture to promote practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, leaving the “what” and “how” to the Secretary’s discretion. When the Secretary begins enforcing the agricultural provisions of the IRA, which Congress first explicitly linked agricultural financing to climate change mitigation practices, we urge you to consider practices that reduce it. all agricultural sources of greenhouse gases, including methane.
As always with increasing regulation of the industry, there will undoubtedly be a harsh backlash from the industrial agriculture lobby to prevent the public from learning the truth about the harmful climate impacts of industrial animal agriculture. Indeed, the lobby went to great lengths to hide the truth about the climate footprint and pollution impact of animal agriculture. For example, there have been numerous proposed changes to the IRA that could prevent the EPA from requiring monitoring or reporting on agricultural methane, and there is a longstanding congressional equestrian forbidding the use of appropriate funds to support any program that would require agro-farming. Firms will report greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Despite these efforts, it is essential that the Administration use more than voluntary programs to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions if we have any chance of reducing climate damage from this sector.
View the Earthjustice Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program statement on Agricultural Methane here: Burps at MERPS