Tag Archives: Economy

Green New Deal aims for triple payback

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − Climate News Network

* * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − Climate News Network

* * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Investor heavyweights call for clear action on climate

As a major UN climate summit gets under way in New York today, some of the world’s leading institutional investors demand clearer policies on climate change and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. LONDON, 23 September, 2014 − Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 340 investment concerns − ranging from Scandinavian pensions funds to institutional investors in Asia, Australia, South Africa and the US − have put their signatures to what they describe as global investors’ most comprehensive statement yet on climate change. In particular, the investors call on government leaders to provide a “stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon policy”, and to develop plans to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels. They warn: “Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ambitious policies

“Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.” Attempts to establish carbon pricing systems capable of making an impact on climate change have so far ended in failure, while oil and gas companies continue to battle against stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The investors’ move has been welcomed by the United Nations. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy, as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly. “What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.” The investors’ statement comes amid growing concern in the finance sector about the economic consequences of a warming world. Last week, a commission composed of leading economists and senior political figures said the transition to a low-carbon economy was vital in order to ensure continued global economic growth.

Stranded assets

Other groups say investors who continue to put their money into fossil fuels are taking considerable risks. As governments and regulators face up to the enormity of climate change and place more restrictions on fossil fuels, such investments could become what are termed “stranded assets”. There are also signs of a surge in low-carbon technologies, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Last week, Lazard, the asset management firm, reported that a decline in cost and increased efficiency means large wind and solar installations in the US can now, without subsidies, be cost competitive with gas-fired power. There is also increased activity on the carbon pricing front. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, recently announced it would establish a countrywide emissions trading system by 2016. If implemented, the China carbon trading system will be the world’s biggest. The country already runs seven regional carbon trading schemes. – Climate News Network

As a major UN climate summit gets under way in New York today, some of the world’s leading institutional investors demand clearer policies on climate change and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. LONDON, 23 September, 2014 − Many of the biggest hitters in the global financial community, together managing an eye-watering $24 trillion of investment funds, have issued a powerful warning to political leaders about the risks of failing to establish clear policy on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. More than 340 investment concerns − ranging from Scandinavian pensions funds to institutional investors in Asia, Australia, South Africa and the US − have put their signatures to what they describe as global investors’ most comprehensive statement yet on climate change. In particular, the investors call on government leaders to provide a “stable, reliable and economically meaningful carbon policy”, and to develop plans to phase out subsidies on fossil fuels. They warn: “Gaps, weaknesses and delays in climate change and clean energy policies will increase the risks to our investments as a result of the physical impacts of climate change, and will increase the likelihood that more radical policy measures will be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Ambitious policies

“Stronger political leadership and more ambitious policies are needed in order for us to scale up our investments.” Attempts to establish carbon pricing systems capable of making an impact on climate change have so far ended in failure, while oil and gas companies continue to battle against stopping fossil fuel subsidies. The investors’ move has been welcomed by the United Nations. Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, said: “Investors are owners of large segments of the global economy, as well as custodians of citizens’ savings around the world. Having such a critical mass of them demand a transition to the low-carbon and green economy is exactly the signal governments need in order to move to ambitious action quickly. “What is needed is an unprecedented re-channelling of investment from today´s economy into the low-carbon economy of tomorrow.” The investors’ statement comes amid growing concern in the finance sector about the economic consequences of a warming world. Last week, a commission composed of leading economists and senior political figures said the transition to a low-carbon economy was vital in order to ensure continued global economic growth.

Stranded assets

Other groups say investors who continue to put their money into fossil fuels are taking considerable risks. As governments and regulators face up to the enormity of climate change and place more restrictions on fossil fuels, such investments could become what are termed “stranded assets”. There are also signs of a surge in low-carbon technologies, particularly in the renewable energy sector. Last week, Lazard, the asset management firm, reported that a decline in cost and increased efficiency means large wind and solar installations in the US can now, without subsidies, be cost competitive with gas-fired power. There is also increased activity on the carbon pricing front. China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, recently announced it would establish a countrywide emissions trading system by 2016. If implemented, the China carbon trading system will be the world’s biggest. The country already runs seven regional carbon trading schemes. – Climate News Network

Monsoon brings late relief to scorched India

Meteorological researchers in India suspect that climate change is a contributory factor to the changing weather patterns that have caused  the late arrival of the monsoon after a summer of swelteringly dry heat that has broken temperature records

Kolkata, 24 June, 2014 − At last, the rains have come. The summer monsoon arrived in West Bengal last week – almost two weeks later than usual − and brought relief to Kolkata and other cities and states across India that have been enduring an unusually hot summer. A temperature of 41.5˚C was recorded in Kolkata in late May – the highest in 10 years – while temperatures in New Delhi  earlier this month exceeded 43˚C for seven consecutive days, and at one stage reached 48˚C. Other cities and states have had record temperatures, and many lives have been lost due to the heat. Livelihoods have also suffered. Kolkata is famous for its bustling streets and pavements crowded with hawkers, but throughout recent months there has been a deserted look to the city. “We have had to close our stalls earlier than usual and there’s been hardly any customers,” says Asraf Ali, a street hawker. “People from neighbouring districts, who are our main customers, have not been coming into the city due to the terrible heat.”

Absence of humidity

One thing that’s been worrying residents of Kolkata is an unusual period of what is called “dry heat” – an absence of humidity. Locals say this has made daytime conditions even more scorching. Aminul Hasaan, a worker in one of Kolkata’s notoriously polluting leather tanning factories, says: “I was working so hard, and usually I sweat so much. But in the weeks before the monsoon I felt my forehead was always dry. It made me feel sick.” Anshujyoti Das, who works for Express Weather, a private weather research organisation that aims to provide location-specific weather forecasts, says the dry heat indicates certain changes in weather patterns. He says: “We cannot claim that this is the direct result of climate change, but we can’t brush the issue under the carpet. We must conduct studies to ascertain the reasons behind such unusual weather patterns.” One possible cause for the dry conditions is thought to be the absence of the north-westerly storms that usually lash Kolkata and surrounding areas in the run-up to the monsoon. On average, five to seven such storms hit in April and May, but this year only one was recorded. There was also an absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south. Due to the conditions, the local government authorities extended summer vacations at 57,000 primary schools and more than 18,000 secondary schools. And the city police in Kolkata decided that traffic constables aged 55 and above should be relieved of their duties because of the extreme heat. Dilip Adak, a senior officer at Kolkata’s traffic department, said: “We try to help [traffic policemen] by providing oral rehydration kits and umbrellas, but often that is not enough.”

Driving up prices

About half of India’s 1.25 billon people are involved in agriculture and are dependent on the summer monsoon rains. The late arrival of the monsoon can have a serious impact, driving up prices of many agricultural goods. The latest report from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that the monsoon has not only arrived late but is less intense than normal, with many areas receiving well below average rainfall. Climate change and the influence of an El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the western Pacific that affects prevailing trade winds, with serious consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans – are seen as important influences on the behaviour of the monsoon– Climate News Network

• Shiba Nanda Basu is a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, Kolkata, India.

• Additional reporting by Kieran Cooke.

Meteorological researchers in India suspect that climate change is a contributory factor to the changing weather patterns that have caused  the late arrival of the monsoon after a summer of swelteringly dry heat that has broken temperature records

Kolkata, 24 June, 2014 − At last, the rains have come. The summer monsoon arrived in West Bengal last week – almost two weeks later than usual − and brought relief to Kolkata and other cities and states across India that have been enduring an unusually hot summer. A temperature of 41.5˚C was recorded in Kolkata in late May – the highest in 10 years – while temperatures in New Delhi  earlier this month exceeded 43˚C for seven consecutive days, and at one stage reached 48˚C. Other cities and states have had record temperatures, and many lives have been lost due to the heat. Livelihoods have also suffered. Kolkata is famous for its bustling streets and pavements crowded with hawkers, but throughout recent months there has been a deserted look to the city. “We have had to close our stalls earlier than usual and there’s been hardly any customers,” says Asraf Ali, a street hawker. “People from neighbouring districts, who are our main customers, have not been coming into the city due to the terrible heat.”

Absence of humidity

One thing that’s been worrying residents of Kolkata is an unusual period of what is called “dry heat” – an absence of humidity. Locals say this has made daytime conditions even more scorching. Aminul Hasaan, a worker in one of Kolkata’s notoriously polluting leather tanning factories, says: “I was working so hard, and usually I sweat so much. But in the weeks before the monsoon I felt my forehead was always dry. It made me feel sick.” Anshujyoti Das, who works for Express Weather, a private weather research organisation that aims to provide location-specific weather forecasts, says the dry heat indicates certain changes in weather patterns. He says: “We cannot claim that this is the direct result of climate change, but we can’t brush the issue under the carpet. We must conduct studies to ascertain the reasons behind such unusual weather patterns.” One possible cause for the dry conditions is thought to be the absence of the north-westerly storms that usually lash Kolkata and surrounding areas in the run-up to the monsoon. On average, five to seven such storms hit in April and May, but this year only one was recorded. There was also an absence of moisture-laden winds blowing from the south. Due to the conditions, the local government authorities extended summer vacations at 57,000 primary schools and more than 18,000 secondary schools. And the city police in Kolkata decided that traffic constables aged 55 and above should be relieved of their duties because of the extreme heat. Dilip Adak, a senior officer at Kolkata’s traffic department, said: “We try to help [traffic policemen] by providing oral rehydration kits and umbrellas, but often that is not enough.”

Driving up prices

About half of India’s 1.25 billon people are involved in agriculture and are dependent on the summer monsoon rains. The late arrival of the monsoon can have a serious impact, driving up prices of many agricultural goods. The latest report from the Indian Meteorological Department shows that the monsoon has not only arrived late but is less intense than normal, with many areas receiving well below average rainfall. Climate change and the influence of an El Niño – a periodic warming of waters in the western Pacific that affects prevailing trade winds, with serious consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans – are seen as important influences on the behaviour of the monsoon– Climate News Network

• Shiba Nanda Basu is a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, Kolkata, India.

• Additional reporting by Kieran Cooke.

Livestock diet ‘can cut GHG emissions’

Limiting changes in the way we use land may be a better way slowing the contribution of livestock to climate change than reducing meat consumption, an international research team says. LONDON, 25 February – Here’s a way to make cattle emit lower volumes of methane through their digestive tracts: give the beasts a higher-quality diet. That way, you get more stock on less grassland, get improved yields per hectare and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “There is a lot of discussion about the reduction of meat in the diet as a way to reduce emissions,” says Petr Havlik of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. “But our results show that targeting the production side of agriculture is a much more efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This will provoke some argument, and in any case seems counter-intuitive. Campaigners have been arguing for decades that livestock farming is in many though not all regions an inefficient way to produce nourishment: grain, pulses, fruits and vegetables deliver greater outputs of calories and proteins at much lower overall costs in water, energy and emissions. Farm animals are responsible for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions and, as the poorer nations develop, demand for meat and dairy protein tends to rise, so emissions are expected to increase.

Production economics

Volume for volume, methane or natural gas is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and researchers in Europe and the US have begun to consider ways of reducing or at least limiting methane discharges from either or both ends of billions of the planet’s grazing animals. But Havlink and colleagues from Africa, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe and the US think the answer lies in the changing economics of production. Livestock provide a third of the protein in human diets: in the developing world oxen, donkeys and buffalos also deliver haulage, manure and regular income. Around 30% of the global land area is used to rear livestock. Between 1980 and 2000, 83% of the expansion of agricultural land in the tropics was at the expense of the tropical forests. A lot of this space is devoted to cattle, sheep and goats. Increasing quantities of maize and soya are also being converted to animal feed. So the problem is not likely to go away. As land prices rise, there is pressure to stock more animals and buy in high-density fodder, to increase yield and to deliver quicker returns. So the new research proposes that both the increase in the cost of land, and the still-rising yields per hectare from croplands, will lead to richer diets for animals: this in turn would pay off in greater returns for the farmers, higher yields for people and – because livestock diets would be lower in cellulose and richer in energy – lower emissions of methane from the flatulent animals.

Better option

The scientists argue that by 2030 the change to more efficient farming could cut emissions by 736 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. That, they suggest, could happen anyway, because it pays farmers to do such things. If political and economic measures were taken to accelerate such changes – and at the same time reduce the conversion of forest to farmland – then the world could save 3,223 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. The real target in all this is not the livestock, but the change in land use. Stringent climate change policies, were they ever to be enforced or even introduced by the governments of the world, could constrain the food available to a swelling population. The researchers argue that it would be five to 10 times more efficient and effective to reduce the changes in land use – to stop burning and clearing forests to make new grazing land. All this involves complex economic reasoning, and the use of economic metrics such as “total abatement calorie cost” and “marginal abatement costs”, but a global package of measures that included investment, trade and education could reduce total emissions from the farms and cattle sheds by 25%. “From the livestock sector perspective, limiting land use change seems the cheapest option both in terms of the economic cost and in terms of impact on food availability,” says Havlik. – Climate News Network

Limiting changes in the way we use land may be a better way slowing the contribution of livestock to climate change than reducing meat consumption, an international research team says. LONDON, 25 February – Here’s a way to make cattle emit lower volumes of methane through their digestive tracts: give the beasts a higher-quality diet. That way, you get more stock on less grassland, get improved yields per hectare and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “There is a lot of discussion about the reduction of meat in the diet as a way to reduce emissions,” says Petr Havlik of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria. “But our results show that targeting the production side of agriculture is a much more efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” This will provoke some argument, and in any case seems counter-intuitive. Campaigners have been arguing for decades that livestock farming is in many though not all regions an inefficient way to produce nourishment: grain, pulses, fruits and vegetables deliver greater outputs of calories and proteins at much lower overall costs in water, energy and emissions. Farm animals are responsible for 12% of greenhouse gas emissions and, as the poorer nations develop, demand for meat and dairy protein tends to rise, so emissions are expected to increase.

Production economics

Volume for volume, methane or natural gas is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and researchers in Europe and the US have begun to consider ways of reducing or at least limiting methane discharges from either or both ends of billions of the planet’s grazing animals. But Havlink and colleagues from Africa, the Caribbean, Australia, Europe and the US think the answer lies in the changing economics of production. Livestock provide a third of the protein in human diets: in the developing world oxen, donkeys and buffalos also deliver haulage, manure and regular income. Around 30% of the global land area is used to rear livestock. Between 1980 and 2000, 83% of the expansion of agricultural land in the tropics was at the expense of the tropical forests. A lot of this space is devoted to cattle, sheep and goats. Increasing quantities of maize and soya are also being converted to animal feed. So the problem is not likely to go away. As land prices rise, there is pressure to stock more animals and buy in high-density fodder, to increase yield and to deliver quicker returns. So the new research proposes that both the increase in the cost of land, and the still-rising yields per hectare from croplands, will lead to richer diets for animals: this in turn would pay off in greater returns for the farmers, higher yields for people and – because livestock diets would be lower in cellulose and richer in energy – lower emissions of methane from the flatulent animals.

Better option

The scientists argue that by 2030 the change to more efficient farming could cut emissions by 736 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. That, they suggest, could happen anyway, because it pays farmers to do such things. If political and economic measures were taken to accelerate such changes – and at the same time reduce the conversion of forest to farmland – then the world could save 3,223 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year. The real target in all this is not the livestock, but the change in land use. Stringent climate change policies, were they ever to be enforced or even introduced by the governments of the world, could constrain the food available to a swelling population. The researchers argue that it would be five to 10 times more efficient and effective to reduce the changes in land use – to stop burning and clearing forests to make new grazing land. All this involves complex economic reasoning, and the use of economic metrics such as “total abatement calorie cost” and “marginal abatement costs”, but a global package of measures that included investment, trade and education could reduce total emissions from the farms and cattle sheds by 25%. “From the livestock sector perspective, limiting land use change seems the cheapest option both in terms of the economic cost and in terms of impact on food availability,” says Havlik. – Climate News Network