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2017-01-17 |

Eight billionaires own more than the poorest 50% of the world combined

SLum Here lives the poorest half of the world (Photo: CC0)

Just eight men own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population combined, according to a new report published by the charity organisation Oxfam. The report ‘An economy for the 99 percent’ shows that the richest eight individuals, led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, have a net wealth of $426bn, which is the same as the net wealth of the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. Gates, whose net worth is $75 billion, is followed by Amancio Ortega, the founder of the Spanish fashion chain Zara (net worth $67 billion) and the American investor Warren Buffett (net worth $60.8 bn). “It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy,” she added and warned of a growing and dangerous concentration of wealth. The report, released ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, reveals that the divide between rich and poor is more pronounced than had been previously feared. Last year, Oxfam had calculated that 62 people owned the same as the poorest half of the world but new data on the distribution of global wealth, particularly in India and China, shows that the situation is even worse.

Oxfam’s calculations are based on the Global Wealth Data book 2016, an annual report published by financial services company Credit Suisse. Oxfam says the super-rich are fuelling the inequality crisis by avoiding taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics. “Across the world, people are being left behind. Their wages are stagnating yet corporate bosses take home million dollar bonuses; their health and education services are cut while corporations and the super-rich dodge their taxes; their voices are ignored as governments sing to the tune of big business and a wealthy elite,” said Winnie Byanyima. And the rich are quickly getting richer. Between 1988 and 2011, the incomes of the poorest 10% increased by just $65 per person, while the incomes of the richest 1% grew by $11,800 per person – 182 times as much. The report quotes UBS figures estimating that in the next 20 years, 500 people will hand over $2.1 trillion to their heirs – a sum larger than the GDP of India, a country of 1.3 billion people. Oxfam says the world could see its first trillionaire within just 25 years. The report calls for fundamental changes to achieve an economy that works for the 99% of the world’s population and not just a handful of super-rich people. “Governments are not helpless in the face of technological change and market forces,” said Byanyima. Oxfam calls on governments to increase taxes on both wealth and high incomes in order to generate funds needed to invest in healthcare, education and job creation and to crack down on tax dodging. In addition, governments need to make sure workers are paid a decent wage, especially for women. “If politicians stop obsessing with GDP, and focus on delivering for all their citizens and not just a wealthy few, a better future is possible for everyone.” In order to achieve a better future for all, world leaders adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Among other objectives, these goals aim at eradicating extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030, ending hunger and malnutrition and reducing inequalities within and among countries. (ab)

2017-01-12 |

EU greening rules need to improve to benefit biodiversity and farmers

Hedge Hedges as EFA: A biotope network for fauna and flora (Photo: Thomas Hesse)

Ecological Focus Areas, a greening measure of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), are currently implemented in a way that provides little benefit for biodiversity and farmers, new research shows. However, there are many possibilities to improve their effectiveness for biodiversity while overcoming implementation barriers for farmers. These are the findings of a group of scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the University of Göttingen and other German, Austrian and French institutions, whose study was published in the journal Conservation Letters. Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) were introduced in 2015 as one of CAP’s greening measures: Farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land are required to dedicate at least 5% of this land to EFAs in order to receive payments. On this areas, they can implement measures such as creating buffer strips, maintaining hedges, leaving land lying fallow or planting nitrogen-fixing crops. The researchers looked at the ecological effectiveness and farmers’ perception of these EFA, collecting responses from 88 experts in agricultural ecology from 17 European countries. They also analysed data on EFA uptake at EU level and in eight Member States and reviewed factors influencing farmers’ decisions. They found that the measures implemented by farmers were not those with the most positive impact on nature. “The experts gave highest scores for buffer strip and for leaving the land fallow, indicating that these options are highly profitable for biodiversity,” explained Guy Pe’er, the lead author of the paper. “Landscape elements like hedges or traditional stone walls were also considered by the experts to have positive effects for many species.” However, very few farmers chose buffer strips or landscape elements. Other options were judged as quite ineffective by the experts: “Catch crops or nitrogen-fixing crops like legumes don’t benefit biodiversity much, especially if farmers use pesticides on these areas,” said Pe’er. But these are the two options most popular among farmers, the results showed. Around 45% of the EFA in the EU is used for growing nitrogen-fixing plants while a further 27% is used for catch crops. In Germany, this option even makes up 68% of EFA. “In other words, there was a poor matching between what ecologists recommend and what farmers implement,” said Guy Pe’er. But the authors also stress that they don’t blame farmers for this. “They are simply making the most economically rational decision and trying to minimise the risks involved,” added the agricultural economist Sebastian Lakner of the University of Göttingen. Cultivating catch crops and nitrogen-fixing plants is very attractive because these crops are simple and cheap to manage, whereas buffer strips and certain landscape elements might be more expensive and time-consuming to maintain. According to the scientists, the effectiveness of greening could be improved by prioritizing those EFA options that promote biodiversity such as buffer strips and landscape elements, and remove, or at least limit the attractiveness of less beneficial options like catch crops. In addition, stricter management requirements, such as limiting the use of pesticides on EFA, are needed. “It is of course essential to forbid the use of pesticides on EFA,” said Guy Pe’er. “It makes no sense to harm biodiversity in areas that are explicitly designated to protect it.” Other options include reducing administrative constraints and offering further incentives for expanding options like landscape features and buffer strips. The researchers hope that these recommendations will be considered in preparations for the EU mid-term review of greening, which will take place in March 2017. (ab)

2017-01-06 |

Smallholders produce 55% of the planet’s food calories, study finds

SmallMap Smallholder map (Leah H Samberg et al., IOP Science, bit.ly/ioperl, bit.ly/cc_by3)

Smallholder farmers in South and East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are responsible for more than 70% of the food calories produced in these regions, new research shows. A study published by researchers at the University of Minnesota in the journal Environmental Research Letters provides comprehensive information about the number, location and distribution of small farms worldwide. It also includes a map which illustrates the distribution of small, medium and large farms across most world regions. The scientist said that despite the recent spotlight on small farms and increasing consensus on their importance, detailed information on location and size of smallholder farms is virtually absent. “This map is a first step toward a better understanding of where and how smallholder farming can be sustainable for both landscapes and livelihoods,” said Leah Samberg, lead author of the study and scientist with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. The researchers said that smallholders and family farms are crucial to feeding the planet and they highlighted that successful policies aimed at alleviating poverty, boosting food security and protecting biodiversity and natural resources depend on the inclusion and participation of small farmers. The researchers therefore hope that the map will fill this knowledge gap and help implement effective agricultural, development, and land use policies. “Combining both agriculture and household survey data creates a map that is a critical piece of the puzzle for targeting the billions of dollars invested in programs to improve people’s lives,” said Paul West, one of the co-authors. The scientists used census data from millions of households in dozens of countries to identify farming households and average farm sizes across much of the world. They identified 918 places in 83 countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America where there are fewer than 5 hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These smallholder hotspots are home to more than 380 million farming households, make up roughly 30% of the agricultural land are key sources of many important agricultural commodities. Within the 83 countries studied, units with a mean agricultural area of five hectares or less account for more than half of the production by mass of eight staple crops: rice, groundnut, cassava, millet, wheat, potato, maize, barley, and rye. According to the authors this illustrates the specific importance of smallholder production for food security. Smallholders in the 83 countries covered by the study in the three regions were responsible for more than 70% of the food calories produced in these regions, and produced 55% of the food calories produced globally. The calories produced by small farms with less than five hectares varied between regions. In Asia, they accounted for 90% of food calories in the region while smallholder units produce half of food calories in sub-Saharan Africa. This study was only a first effort to make use of the rich datasets, said lead author Leah Samberg: “We envision numerous future applications of this farm size product in combination with other variables related to food security, natural resource use and human well-being that will further increase our understanding of the dynamics of small farms and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.” (ab)

2017-01-05 |

Rural women hold the key to ending hunger and poverty, experts

Woman Women are the backbone of agriculture (Photo: CC0)

The fight against poverty, hunger and malnutrition can only be won if rural women and girls, especially in the agricultural sector, have equal opportunities than men. This was the message of hunger experts at a high-level event held at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome in December. “It is important that rural women have the appropriate conditions to develop their capacities and carry out their activities. This includes adequate and equal access to financial resources, services and opportunities,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, who described women as the backbone of agriculture. According to FAO figures, 45% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries are women, with that figure rising to 60 percent in parts of Africa and Asia. “Evidence shows that when women have opportunities, the yields on their farms increase, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure,” da Silva added. This was confirmed by Neven Mimica, the EU commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, who also spoke at the event: “We know that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men. As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world.” In addition, children also have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated, he stressed, especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. However, 60 percent of chronically hungry people on the planet are women or girls. Women across all world regions are less likely than men to own or control land, and their plots often are of poorer quality. FAO estimates that less than 20% of the world’s landholders are women. “All of this must change,” said da Silva, “Achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do. It is a crucial ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.” The speakers therefore highlighted the key role rural women play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gender equality and women’s empowerment is an important theme of the Agenda 2030, adopted by world leaders in September 2015. This is not only addressed in the stand-alone goal 5, that wants to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”, but gender equality needs to be mainstreamed across all 17 SDGs. Neven Mimica underscored the importance of gender equality especially for Goal 2 on eliminating hunger and malnutrition worldwide. “If we are serious about putting an end to poverty and hunger once and for all, then we all need to step up our support for rural women. As an investment in families, in our communities, in our wider societies, and in our planet's future,” the EU Commissioner argued. (ab)

2016-12-30 |

EU report highlights benefits of organic food and farming for human health

Organic Organic market fruits and vegetables (Photo: bit.ly/SalFal bit.ly/1_CC_BY-NC_2-0)

A new report backed by European Parliament scientists underscores the benefits of organic food and farming for human health. The study, carried out by the European Parliamentary Research Service, looked at the existing scientific evidence regarding the impact of organic food on human health and the potential contribution of organic management practices to the development of healthy food systems. The scientists concluded that eating organic food has potential beneficial effects on human health, ranging from a decreased risk of allergic diseases to lower dietary exposure to pesticides. But they also point out that few studies have directly addressed the effect of organic food on human health and that more data from well-designed long-term studies is needed. With regard to pesticides, they concluded that consumers of organic food have a reduced risk of exposure. “Epidemiological studies point to the negative effects of certain insecticides on children’s cognitive development at current levels of exposure. Such risks can be minimised with organic food, especially during pregnancy and in infancy.” The report continues: “Organic agriculture supplies food with low pesticide residues, and may be instrumental in conventional agriculture’s transition towards integrated pest management by providing a large-scale laboratory for non-chemical plant protection.”

According to the researchers, some studies indicate that organic food may reduce the risk of allergies in children, adult overweight/obesity and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but they also admit that it is currently not possible to determine whether organic food plays the decisive role since consumers of organic food tend to have healthier diets overall. This leads to methodological difficulties in separating the potential effect of organic food preference from the effect of other lifestyle factors. With regard to crop composition, the study said that vitamins and minerals are found in similar concentrations in both organic and conventional crops. But the scientists found indications that organic crops have a lower cadmium content due to differences in fertiliser usage and soil organic matter, an issue that is highly relevant to human health. In addition, organic milk, and probably also meat, have a higher content of omega-3 fatty acids compared to conventional products. The authors also mention a large number of studies which suggest an increased content of phenolic compounds found in organic crops. Another benefit of organic agriculture highlighted in the study is the reduced risk of antibiotic resistance in farm animals: “The prevalent use of antibiotics in conventional animal production is a key driver of antibiotic resistance. The prevention of animal disease and more restrictive use of antibiotics, as practiced in organic production, could minimise this risk, with potentially considerable benefits for public health”, the study concluded. Soil Association, the UK’s leading food and farming charity, welcomed the report as a “Christmas present for organic farmers and everyone who eats organic food”. Peter Melchett, Soil Association’s policy director, said that “a key reason that people buy organic food sales is that they feel it is better for them and their family - that is why more than half the baby food sold in the UK is organic. This new, independent, scientific review confirms people are right,” he added. (ab)

2016-12-28 |

Urbanization is eating up the world’s most fertile farmland, study warns

Urban Urbanization is eating up fertile farmland (Photo: CC0)

Urbanization is eating up the world’s most fertile farmland, threatening sustainability goals and livelihoods of small-scale farmers in the Global South, new research shows. According to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), some 300,000 square kilometers of particularly fertile cropland will be lost by the year 2030 due to urban sprawl. This corresponds to an area almost the size of Germany and a possible loss of 3–4% of worldwide crop production in the year 2000. The scientists from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) say this area could feed more than 300 million people for an entire year with 2,500 calories per day. The researchers combined projections on urban area expansion from Yale University with land-use data from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Columbia on global croplands and crop yields. Their results show that urban expansion will result in a 1.8–2.4% loss of global croplands by 2030, with substantial regional disparities. About 80% of global cropland loss from urban expansion will occur in Asia and Africa. Africa has the highest urbanization rates, whereas Asia has the highest absolute growth of urban dwellers. China alone will account for one-fourth of total global cropland loss, amounting to almost 80,000 km². According to the authors, urban expansion in China is taking place in the country’s most productive farmland and over large areas and could therefore pose a threat to domestic crop production. “Hotspots of cropland loss tend to be river valleys and deltas, such as the Yangtze River Delta near Shanghai or the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong,” said lead author Bren d’Amour. He predicts that land-use conflict between urbanization and food production will differ from region to region. “A lot depends on the urbanization dynamics of the individual countries. In India, for example, the urbanization process is not as fast as in China and smaller in overall scale.”

African countries will experience the highest percentage loss of cropland. Among the hotspots are Nigeria, Burundi and Rwanda, countries that are already severely affected by hunger and food shortage. Urbanization will also eat away large parts of Egypt’s fertile farmlands. By 2030, the country could lose about one-third of its cropland. The study warns that the world’s most fertile soils will be affected since urban sprawl is predicted to take place on cropland that is 1.77 times more productive than the global average. The authors say that “this dynamic adds pressure to potentially strained future food systems and threatens livelihoods in vulnerable regions”. Beyond the direct loss of cropland, the growth of megaurban regions has other important implications for food systems, especially for smallholder farmers, they argue. Large urban areas have seen a growth in supermarkets replacing locally owned or small-scale food retail stores. This has implications for traditional retailers, small producers, traditional food brokers, and the entire supply chain, the authors warn, as once decentralized systems of food procurement will shift to a more centralized system focused on large distribution centers. They urge governments to take action to protect small-scale producers and traditional retailers in order to secure livelihoods in the agrarian economies of the Global South. “Urban planners can contribute to preventing small farmers from losing their livelihoods. Spatially efficient urbanization could help to retain the existing agricultural system while continuing to provide small farmers with access to the urban food market,” said co-author Felix Creutzig. (ab)

2016-12-23 |

Shift to sustainable agriculture needed to protect biodiversity, UN conference

Bees Pollinators which are curcial for food security (Photo: A. Beck)

A major UN conference has agreed to step up efforts to integrate the protection of biodiversity across all sectors, including agriculture. At the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which ended on 17 December in Mexico, ministers from around the world adopted the Cancún Declaration. The six-page document recognises the need to mainstream the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors as a key action to achieve sustainable development, including ensuring food security and addressing climate change. In the text, countries pledge to “ensure that sectoral and cross-sectoral policies, plans and programmes, as well as legal and administrative measures and budgets established by governments, integrate in a structured and coherent manner actions for the conservation, sustainable use, management, and restoration of biological diversity and ecosystems.” They also committed to support sustainable production and consumption and to phase out incentives harmful to biodiversity.

The document stresses the need to make agriculture more sustainable to achieve biodiversity targets. “This is a turning point,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General. “The agriculture sectors and biodiversity have often been regarded as separate and even conflicting concerns, yet they are inextricably connected. Agriculture is by nature a major user of biodiversity, but it also has the potential to contribute to its protection,” she added. One measure laid down in the document is the conservation and cultivation of native varieties, as well as farmers’ landraces, locally adapted breeds and underutilized species, including those threatened by production intensification. In addition, countries committed to measures to promote diversified agro-ecological systems and the designation of agricultural biodiversity conservation sites. Another goal are sustainable consumption and production patterns, including more diversified diets based on a broader range of biodiversity. While UN representatives seemed to be satisfied with the results of the conference, some NGOs were disappointed with the outcome. Friends of the Earth International said the results do not rise up to the challenge of protecting biodiversity as they do not lead to the necessary system change to curb the accelerated loss of biodiversity. “It is a good idea to make sure all sectors take biodiversity into account when making decisions that can impact biodiversity. But unfortunately, the final decisions fail to impose action that would force the before mentioned sectors to act within planetary boundaries,” the organisation said in a statement. With regard to one goal mentioned in the declaration, the effective management and conservation of pollinators, several countries already announced the creation of a “coalition of the willing”. The “Promote Pollinators” coalition promised to take action to protect pollinators and their habitats by developing and implementing national pollinator strategies, sharing knowledge on new approaches and to developing research on pollinator conservation. (ab)

2016-12-19 |

Grow initiative expands corporate control over agriculture in the Global South

Maiz Grow in Vietnam: Maize for animal feed (Photo: CC0)

Under a programme called Grow, the world’s largest agribusiness corporations are taking control of food and farming in the Global South, warns a new report released on December 15 by the non-profit organisation GRAIN. According to the report “Grow-ing disaster: the Fortune 500 goes farming”, some of the biggest food and agribusiness companies such as Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Monsanto are promoting public-private partnerships within the framework of the Grow programme, which focuses on Latin America, Africa and Asia – the main growth markets for the global food industry. They are promising ”market-based solutions” to poverty, food insecurity and climate change, with the aim of supporting small farmers. In reality, however, those food companies are fostering close ties with governments in order to increase their control over markets and supply chains. The programme’s focus is on a few high-value commodities, for example potatoes, maize, coffee and palm oil, showing that the real objective of the Grow initiative is to expand the production of these cash crops to benefit just a handful of companies, most of which are based in the US and Europe. The report warns that the programme will have negative impacts on local communities, biodiversity, nutrition and the climate.
Grow is part of the New Vision for Agriculture, an initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF) that was launched in 2009 and is led by 31 of the WEF's “partner” companies involved in the food business, whether in agriculture, food processing or retail. GRAIN criticises that The New Vision for Agriculture is “a vague document that calls for market-based approaches to increase global food production and ensure environmental sustainability. Its main emphasis is on contract farming linking small farmers to multinational companies or corporate plantations. Grow Asia is the Southeast Asian leg of a global initiative and is located within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its Food Security Framework. One of Grow Asia’s projects in Vietnam is a Monsanto and Syngenta-led project to assist the Ministry of Agriculture in converting 668,000 ha from traditional rice production for food to hybrid maize production for animal feed within five years. GRAIN reports that the conversion scheme has already had dramatic consequences for the Xinh Mun people who live in this region. Over the past several years, many of them were pushed into planting maize instead of their traditional upland rice by offering them seeds and fertilisers, as well as household staples such as rice and salt in exchange for signing contracts to grow maize. The report says the farmers didn’t realise that they would have to repay the cost of the seeds at twice the price at harvest time. Almost all village households ended up in debt and many farmers have lost their land in an effort to repay debts. Another project in Vietnam’s Lam Dong province promotes contract potato production linking small farmers with US-based food giant PepsiCo. The company needs a particular potato variety for its Lay’s brand of chips and aims at building up a more affordable local supply chain. In Latin America, the New Vision's companies have their sights set on the Pacific Alliance (composed of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) but it has so far been limited to a national programme in Mexico. In Africa, the Grow programme is closely intertwined with the infamous New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa. The report describes a project in Ghana, where local people have been severely affected by the loss of land for food production and the decline in access to fish from the project's use of their water sources. For corporations, Grow offers a win-win scenario, the report concludes, but there is no future for small farmers or food traders and processors in this vision. (ab)

2016-12-15 |

Fight against hunger in Asia-Pacific is losing momentum, FAO warns

Diets2 Diets are changing in Asia (Photo: CC0, akshayapatra)

Progress towards ending hunger in Asia and the Pacific has slowed down in recent years, according to a new study published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). If the fight against hunger and malnutrition is not picking up momentum, most countries of the region will not meet the UN’s second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger by 2030. With some 490 million people, the Asia-Pacific region is home to more than 60% of the world’s hungry people. 12% of the region’s population is undernourished with most of them living in South Asia. Although the prevalence of undernourishment in the Asia Pacific region dropped by half from 24.3% in 1990, progress has slowed down in the last five years compared to the two decades before, the report said. With recent reduction rate, only two countries would reach the target of eliminating hunger by 2030 and even with their best historical rates only nine countries would meet the zero hunger goal. “The analysis in this report is an eye-opener and a wake-up call to all of us here in Asia and the Pacific,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative. “To some, the year 2030 may still seem far away, but it’s only 14 years from now and we still have nearly half-a-billion hungry people in this region.”

The report also notes that nearly one in three children in the region are suffering from stunting. “Many countries in the region face the challenge of a triple burden of malnutrition whereby an inadequate intake of calories, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity prevail simultaneously.” Obesity has been increasing rapidly in parts of the region. While figures differ country to country, the regional rate of obesity has been increasing by more than 4% annually. The study highlights that diets in Asia and the Pacific are undergoing rapid transition as countries and their inhabitants are growing richer. According to FAO, per capita rice consumption has declined and consumption of livestock products, fish, fruits and vegetables has grown rapidly. “The most striking example of this is the rapid take up of dairy products across the region,” said Kadiresan. This presents a tremendous opportunity to improve nutrition, she said, but policy-makers also need to ensure that the region’s small-holder dairy farmers benefit from this trend. They need fair access to markets and support that enables them to compete in the marketplace. The report says that changes in diets also require that foods other than rice receive more investments in agricultural research and more policy attention. “Most countries in this region are spending too little on agricultural research,” said Kadiresan. “So in order to meet both the zero hunger goal and ensure everyone is well nourished in Asia-Pacific by 2030, we will, collectively, need to put our money where our mouths are to ensure we can meet these twin challenges,” she added. (ab)

2016-12-13 |

Rising methane emissions from agriculture threaten climate goals, scientists warn

Reis Flooded paddy field (Photo: Sandy Hartmann)

Global methane emissions from agriculture and other sources have increased dramatically in recent years, threatening efforts to combat climate change, new research shows. A team of international scientists warns that atmospheric methane concentrations have jumped rapidly since 2007 after a period of relative stagnation in the early 2000s. “Unlike CO2, atmospheric methane concentrations are rising faster than at any time in the past two decades and, since 2014, are now approaching the most greenhouse-gas-intensive scenarios,” they write in the journal Environmental Research Letters on December 12. This is alarming since methane’s warming potential is about 28 times greater on a 100-year horizon than that of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. „Keeping global warming below 2 °C is already a challenging target, with most of the attention placed primarily on CO2 emissions,” the paper reads. “Such a target will become increasingly difficult if reductions in methane emissions are not also addressed strongly and rapidly.“

According to the scientists, around 60% of all methane emissions globally are human-induced, while the rest stems from wetlands and other natural sources. The analysis suggests that agriculture is mainly to blame for the recent rapid rise in global methane concentrations - with smaller contributions from fossil fuel use and possibly wetlands. Livestock production and agriculture account for nearly two-thirds of human-induced methane emissions. Cattle emit methane through bodily functions and manure, while rice fields emit methane when being flooded. “The fossil fuel industry has received most of the attention in recent years. Agricultural emissions need similar scrutiny,” said Rob Jackson, chair of Stanford’s Earth System Science Department and co-author of the paper. Although methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, it also “presents the best opportunity to slow climate change quickly,” said Jackson because it is much more short-lived in the atmosphere than CO2. This means that actions taken to reduce emissions will show rapid results, the researchers said. One possible solution for agriculture is to change the way rice is cultivated by reducing the flooding of paddy fields. „Modification of rice agriculture practices (e.g., semi-inundated paddies, dry cultivation) is well tested and promising, assuming yield and quality of the staple food for more than 3 billion people can be guaranteed“, the authors write. Other strategies include promoting less meat-intensive diets and modifying ruminants’ diet to limit methane emissions from intestinal processes. Measures in other areas could be covering landfills to capture methane emissions. According to the study, such mitigation policies in the agriculture and waste sectors are key to reducing methane emissions in most of the high emitting regions. “We still need to cut carbon dioxide emissions, but cutting methane provides complementary benefits for climate, economies and human health,” Jackson added. (ab)

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