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Commentary

Methane Momentum Will Drive On-farm Innovation

COP28 drew much-needed attention to the need for urgent methane action in the food sector, says Meryl Richards, Program Director, Food and Forests at Ceres.

It was hard not to notice at the largest ever Conference of the Parties (COP) that food was everywhere. There was the first themed day on food, agriculture, and water, countless food companies promoting their climate leadership, organisations touting climate-smart agriculture solutions, and some US$7.8 billion in financial pledges aimed at transitioning to a low-carbon food system.

Despite official negotiations on agriculture and food security being tabled until next year, over 150 countries signed onto the UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action. And the response to the first Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement emphasised that integrated solutions, such as sustainable agriculture and resilient food systems, are needed to strengthen the world’s response to climate change. A critical piece of food’s climate transition puzzle that earned noteworthy attention is agricultural methane – the sector’s largest source of emissions – and specifically livestock emissions, which account for at least 12% of global GHG emissions (and very likely more).

Food companies under pressure

This spotlight on the world’s super-sized climate stage raises the bar for methane action. Food companies will be under increased pressure to address their methane emissions by developing comprehensive action plans. Announcements of new funding commitments and private sector actions made to reduce livestock emissions throughout COP28 will drive this momentum. These include the launch of the Dairy Methane Action Alliance, which Ceres is supporting; the Global Methane Hub’s Enteric Fermentation Research & Development Accelerator, a US$200 million funding initiative; and Bezos Earth Fund’s US$57 million in food-related grants to tackle the dual threats of climate change and biodiversity loss – many of which are directed toward tackling methane emissions from livestock.

Going into COP, we were beginning to see more companies in Ceres’ Food Emissions 50 initiative report information on methane and other sources of their supply chain emissions. But only a few, such as Yum! Brands, Starbucks, and Kraft Heinz have disclosed how they are working to reduce emissions from livestock. While this is a start, more urgent corporate action is needed to reduce livestock emissions and mitigate the escalating risks of climate change and nature loss.

The UN’s latest findings show roughly 70% of livestock emissions could be cut through sustainable changes to on-farm practices, making innovation essential in the sector to drive those changes. In Ceres’ recent report, Cultivating Innovation: Practical Solutions for Companies to Reduce Agricultural Emissions, we lay out proven and ready-to-deploy ways for food companies to accelerate agricultural innovation to reduce GHG emissions.

Two key ways that companies can work to spur innovation are collaborating with industry peers and implementing actions in their supply chain to adopt new technologies. One example of industry collaboration is the Greener Cattle Initiative, which includes Archer Daniels Midland and Nestlé among its founding members. This initiative conducts research for a wide variety of technological solutions to address methane emissions from dairy and livestock production, such as feed additives.

Feed additives – supplements incorporated into livestock feed to reduce the amount of methane produced by cows and emitted through their burps – are a promising lower-emission solution that companies can support as part of supply chain innovation. For example, Royal FrieslandCampina conducted a six-month pilot with 158 of its dairy farm suppliers of Bovaer, a feed additive under development, that led to a 28% average enteric methane reduction.

Clear steps

From advancing emerging agricultural technologies to leveraging the newly announced industry alliances and funding pledges, there are clear steps that companies can take to carry on COP28’s methane action momentum. Investors can also play a role by using these insights to engage the food companies in tackling their livestock emissions in their transition plans.

If companies act ambitiously now, it is possible for the sector to uphold its climate commitments and transition to a more sustainable, more resilient food system.

 

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