From metrics to solutions – curbing methane emissions in agriculture


The FAO LEAP secretariat recently convened the second plenary meeting of the Technical Advisory Group on Methaneto discuss progress, consolidate information and identify opportunities to curb methane emissions from agriculture. 

Initiated in February 2021, the methane technical advisory group (TAG) brings together 59 science experts spread across 23 countries in four continents: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and North America.

Through a series of meetings, the experts drawn from different institutes - universities, governmental organizations, private sector, civil society organisations, and non-government organisations – have been looking into methane sources in agriculture, discussing soundness and fitness for purpose of climate change metrics, and the mitigation strategies to cut down methane. 

Speaking at the opening of the second plenary for the methane TAG, FAO Chief of Livestock Information, Sector Analysis and Policy Branch, and Co-chair of LEAP Partnership, Mr Henning Steinfeld, emphasized how reducing methane emissions can be an easy gain for climate action.

“The recent report of UNEP and CCAC on Global Methane Assessment confirms that methane emissions from livestock systems contribute 32 percent to global anthropogenic emissions, with roughly 8 percent coming from manure, enteric fermentation, and rice cultivation”

“Any mitigation of methane emissions from livestock systems is likely to result in a cooling effect in case emissions from other greenhouse gases are kept constant. But stakeholders and countries require science-based climate change metrics enabling them to monitor progress towards such ambitious mitigation targets. Such metrics need to consider the biological origin of methane emissions.” 

“I believe the conclusions from this TAG will shape the narrative on the environmental sustainability of livestock systems, especially on climate change, and will be a good basis for countries to integrate the livestock sector into their national climate action,” said Henning.

According to the estimates from the FAO Global Livestock Environment Assessment Model (GLEAM), methane accounts for about half of the 8.1 gigatons CO2 equivalent that is released in a year. In particular, 44% out of the overall amount of methane emissions come from enteric fermentation. 

Despite methane having a short lifetime in the atmosphere – circa 12 years – compared to carbon dioxide, which remains for centuries- it is still a climate pollutant with the livestock and rice sector accounting for 40% of the total methane emissions globally, according to UNEP and CCAC methane report.

Within the livestock sector, this is fueled by the increased global demand for livestock as a source of food and services.

Under the co-chairpersonship of Mr Ermias Kebreab (University of California, Davis, the USA), Ms Michelle Cain (Cranfield University, the UK) and Mr Jun Murase (Nagoya University, Japan), the TAG has been holding a series of meetings to develop technical guidance for methane assessment. In particular, meetings were held to discuss sources of methane, mitigation options, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of different climate change metrics and their relevancy to inform evidence-based GHGs mitigation strategies and sectoral carbon footprints.

In closing remarks, FAO senior livestock policy officer, Mr Timothy Robinson, reiterated the urgent need to tackle methane emissions, if we were to stand any chance of getting back on track towards the Paris Agreement targets. 

“With the UN Food Systems Summit and COP 26 looming this year, there's a growing focus on agriculture greenhouse gas emissions and particularly on methane and outputs of this group are extremely timely”

“Different livestock sectors sector players are trying to make ambitious but realistic and honest commitments to reducing emissions or reducing their impact on global warming, and the methane TAG guidance document will provide an evidence-based perspective on which metrics are most suitable to meet various objectives,” said Mr Robinson.

The results from the group will form part of the FAO LEAP recommendations on climate change metrics to assess GHGs emissions and will inform the FAO governing bodies through the Sub-committee on livestock of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG). The public will be invited to share their views through a consultation in August in readiness for the report to be released at end of October. Additionally, the results will complement the Koronivia Joint work on agriculture and highlight the importance of the agricultural sector as an important part of the solution to climate change at United Nations Climate Conference (COP 26) later this year. 

This technical advisory group is conceived by FAO LEAP Partnership together with several divisions and multi-stakeholder initiatives hosted in FAO. In particular, these are the Global Soil Partnership, the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, FAO Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, and Land and Water Division.