The call comes as a new UN report on the potential for methane mitigation is published
In a newly published paper the Commercial Farmers Group (CFG) has called on the four nations of the UK to urgently adopt a dual accounting approach – using two different models side-by-side. It says this approach will help cattle and sheep farmers manage methane outputs better and even provide offsetting opportunities for other industries.
The call comes as a new United Nations report on the potential for methane mitigation is published. While in Europe, tackling emissions from the waste sector could allow the greatest progress, it says curbing emissions from ruminant livestock also presents opportunities – except the potential is hard to measure and estimates fluctuate significantly.
Andrew Loftus, Yorkshire farmer and member of the CFG steering group, says lack of suitable accounting methods only confounds this further. It means the UK livestock industry cannot access accurate and consistent feedback on the real warming impact of methane emissions and the success of different mitigation efforts.
He says the commonly used GWP100 accounting method is reliable at measuring gases which last hundreds or thousands of years and keep accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere, mainly CO2 and nitrous oxide, but it does not work for biogenic methane from ruminant livestock.
This is methane that is belched when the animals digest forage, broken down after only 12 years into water and CO2, then locked back up by pasture and forage crops through photosynthesis – a completely different proposition from, for example, CO2 produced from burning fossil fuels. That’s why we need a different way of measuring methane’s impact, says Mr Loftus.
The alternative model to address this problem already exists. GWP, developed at the Oxford Martin School in the University of Oxford, reflects the true warming impact of individual gases – in particular those of short-lived climate pollutants such as methane. It is this model the CFG wants to see officially recognized by the UK governments for accounting purposes alongside GWP100.
Mr Loftus says: New Zealand has already led the way in adopting GWP alongside GWP100, but the concept has not yet gained wider traction.
Everyone we speak to who understands the scientific principles behind greenhouse gas accounting, whether researcher or politician, has acknowledged the superior ability of GWP to measure actual climate warming – its validity is not questioned. The issue with adoption seems to be inertia and reluctance to move away from the status quo, he says.
Failing to implement dual accounting could represent a huge missed opportunity for the UK. The UN report concludes that targeted measures such as changes to feed or use of supplements, selective breeding, improved animal health and better manure management offer methane mitigation potential.