Report back from the International Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference

Regional inequities, methane management, human nutrition and animal feeds were hot topics at this year’s conference. 

by Frances Ryan

The International Greenhouse Gas and Animal Agriculture Conference (GGAA), which took place in June of this year, discussed policy, measuring GHG emissions in the field, improving national GHG inventories and well as the inequity between LMICs and HICs in terms of GHG measurements. I attended as a member of the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) community, as well as in my role as a Livestock and Environment research at SEBI-Livestock.

Methane measurement and management were at the forefront of discussions. Given the large global warming potential, reducing enteric methane is seen as an opportunity to reduce climate impact in the livestock sector. As a result, there was a comprehensive discussion about improving animal feeds to mitigate enteric methane, as well data requirements and measurement approaches to calculate methane in different settings. Most of the participants who attended either live in high income countries (HICs) or work on measuring GHGs in HICs. We recognised that as a global scientific community, we should be prioritising issues around measurement, environmental impacts of the livestock sector, and the impacts of climate change on livestock-keeping communities, including in low and middle income countries (LMICs).

At present, we know that only five of 141 LMICs have been able to formulate emission calculations according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Tier 2 Methodology. It is for us and the wider scientific community to support LMICs, understand livestock and help build a robust evidence-base going forward. In doing so, it is hoped that more countries could produce Tier 2 calculations of the livestock sector. This is a particularly interesting time given that countries are preparing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which will shape key actions to mitigate climate change in a range of sectors. It was brought to the attendees’ attention that, only 4 of 148 country submissions refer to animal health despite livestock systems being important in LMICs and there being a link to emissions.

Workshop: Methane Emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa

This session, chaired by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab at the University of Florida, focused on the precision needed to quantify GHG emissions as well as mitigation. Of course, mitigation in itself can lead of adaptation. We heard from the Environmental Institute for Agricultural Research in Burkina Faso how methane measurements are being made on the ground using a tool called GreenFeed made by C-Lock We also heard from work at the University of Florida and from the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases as well as the Global Methane Hub who spoke about the data needs and the collaborations that need to address. It was also really good to hear from ILRI and in particular the Mazingira Centre, where we learnt about the work being conducted that will help provide the evidence to improve IPCC Tier 2 emission factors. This will contribute to improved GHG emission calculations. A key concern which emerged in the discussion related to the lack of emission measurements outside of Kenya and South Africa. Calculations are important for understanding impact.

Key take-aways from main conference programme

There could be unintended consequences of reducing emissions at animal level. For example, a reduction in emissions could lead to more animals on the ground. National inventories do not really account for such changes.

Human nutrition is important but we need to focus on more than just protein. Micronutrients are key. 45% of children under 5 who die are killed due to undernutrition with 144 million under 5 year olds are stunted (Horton and Ross 2003; Martorell 2010; WHO 2021; UNICEF 2020). This impacts cognition, reduces brain size affects the rest of their lives contributing to poorer outcomes (Black et al 2008; Black et al 2013; Horton & Ross 2003; Martorell 2010)&. This has wider consequences for economic progress. Environmental impacts need to be considered alongside the purpose of our food system, to provide human nutrition, ethics and our social aims. These are not mutually exclusive.

Supplementing animal feed with seaweed can offer opportunities to reduce enteric methane production. Some estimates suggest this could reduce emissions by 80% (Roque et al, 2021). There are caveats to this being more widely replicated in different regions as well as pollution and contamination concerns.

Cereal diets do not fulfil all the nutrients that humans require. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations later in the conference expanded on this point urging the community to consider CO2-eq emissions produced based on nutrient output rather than per kg of product. This focus will help to pave the way to compare different systems on a like for like basis.

And, as always, there are trade-offs and emissions need to be considered alongside other components of livestock systems.

Learn more

Online Workshop: How can data empower environmentally responsible livestock development? 
Monday 26 September 2022, 14:00 - 17:00 BST (GMT+1) 
Explore how different groups can support each other with environmental data and evidence for better decisions in the livestock sector. This session is targeted at anyone implementing livestock development projects, data collectors and analysts, environmental modellers, commentators, and funders.

Register for this workshop now, which will take place during the LD4D annual (virtual) community meeting

Dr Frances Ryan is a Researcher with SEBI-Livestock, based at the University of Edinburgh. SEBI-Livestock facilitates the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) network

Header photo: Farmer milks a cow in a paddock, Kiruhura district Uganda. Photo: S. Leitner (ILRI) (source)