A leading environmental professor has said farming can become completely ‘climate neutral’ if agricultural methane emissions are reduced by just 20 per cent over the next 30 years.
Myles Allen, a professor from the University of Oxford, who has served on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claimed this kind of gentle reduction in methane emissions would be enough to fully compensate for the warming impact of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from agriculture.
Farmers have already been cutting methane emissions by 10 per cent every 30 years, through measures such as better slurry storage and application.
Speaking at a climate change event, co-hosted by the NFU and Sustainable Food Trust, in Gloucestershire last week (July 5), Prof Allen explained livestock farmers did not need to reach the Government’s net zero by 2050 target to stop, or actually reverse, warming caused by agriculture.
This is because when methane is released into the atmosphere, it has a much stronger warming impact than the same amount of CO2, but unlike CO2 or nitrous oxide, which have a constant warming effect even when emissions fall to zero, cutting the amount of methane emitted will actually cause global cooling.
Prof Allen said: “The conventional accounting system, endorsed by Defra and our Government, and even the Committee on Climate Change which ought to know better, would equate all three of these emissions with that amount of CO2, all of which would cause warming.”
He went on to suggest falling methane emissions should be equated with CO2 removal if the goal was to stop global temperatures rising.
He said: “Agricultural methane emissions seem to be dominating the story. Say we reduce UK agricultural methane emissions by 20 per cent, instead of 100 per cent, between now and 2050, what does that do to global temperatures?
“That gentle decline in methane would be enough to fully compensate for the ongoing warming impact of CO2 and nitrous oxide emissions from UK agriculture over the next 30 years.
“So you could say UK agriculture was no longer causing global warming from tomorrow.”
According to Prof Allen, going even further and reducing agricultural methane emissions to zero over the next 35 years would cause global cooling, taking the industry’s contribution to global warming back to the level it was in the 1960s.
He said: “For the power sector to do that, they would have to pump back out of the atmosphere all of the CO2 they have put into it since 1960.
“Climate-neutral agriculture; it is a big brand to put on your goods.”