COP26 overlooks the biggest source of methane emissions as intensive animal farming is largely ignored


COP26 overlooks the biggest source of methane emissions as intensive animal farming is largely ignored

12 November 2021
Reducing livestock numbers, promoting plant-based alternatives and changing the way we treat animals are major opportunities for climate change mitigation. As outlined by the IPCC, methane emissions need to be cut down without delay.

As of 12 November, 109 countries have joined the Global Methane Pledge during COP26 and have committed to reducing global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. In reality, emissions need to be cut by 40-45% if we want to keep global warming below 1.5°C. While methane has long been omitted from climate agreements, it is good that it has now attracted the attention of decision-makers. However, the Global Methane Pledge fails to significantly address the methane emissions of our unsustainable food system.

Yet, although emissions from the current food system alone will leave the 1.5° target out of reach, the needed reduction of intensive animal farming is not addressed in the Global Methane Pledge. 

Globally, agriculture stands for 40% of methane emission and, in the EU, it accounts for 53% of human-caused methane emissions, of which the major part comes from the meat and dairy sector. As a comparison, the contribution of fossil fuel is 19-30%. Instead of addressing the urgent need for clear consumption and production reductions, the Global Methane Pledge focuses on technological innovations, such as manure management systems, anaerobic digesters and novel livestock feeds

Novel livestock feeds cannot provide the solution. They risk sustaining systems that will only allow for minor reductions in methane emissions while being detrimental to animal welfare. Such a path would lock us into a fundamentally unsustainable model of industrial animal farming. A reduction in the number of animals intensively farmed must be part of the methane reduction strategies to prevent the need for technological quick-fixes in the first place.

While the EU Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions on the one hand relies on technological fixes, it also recognises the need for a dietary change with less red and processed meat, more fruits, vegetables and plant-based protein sources, in line with the EU Farm to Fork Strategy. 

Political commitments are needed to move towards regenerative agriculture with a reduced number of animals and high levels of animal welfare as well as support for a dietary shift to more plant-based diets. Such measures would reduce methane emissions substantially, but also promote biodiversity, restore soil fertility and free up land for food production for direct human consumption.