Do not ignore livestock’s contribution to climate change

News: About 103 countries, took the Global Methane Pledge, which includes a commitment to reduce emissions of this gas by 30% from 2020 levels by the end of this decade.

But the problem of emissions from animal agriculture and livestock production is also central to the global discussion on climate change.

And much of the developed world is not even talking about it.

This is an opportunity for India to assume a leadership position in building a dialogue and furthering action around this issue.

Why reduction of livestock production matters?

According to the IPCC,

Livestock production currently contributes at least 14.5 % of all greenhouse gas emissions.

And, if current production levels continue on the same trajectory, it is expected to account for nearly 81% of emissions, possibly raising global temperatures by 1.5° Celsius by 2050.

What are India’s challenges in lowering of GHG emissions from ruminant animals?

Huge population of cattle: With a livestock count of over half a billion, as per the 20th livestock census of the department of animal husbandry, India is the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases such as methane, which is produced by ruminant animals.

India’s rural economy is dependent on animal agriculture: Two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion-plus population still lives in rural parts of the country. A sizeable number is dependent on animal agriculture (i.e. dairy, poultry and fisheries).

Policy priority: The Indian government’s investments also prioritize animal agriculture as a livelihood option. For instance:

– In 2018, govt launched the Dairy Infrastructure Development Fund to incentivize investment by the cooperative sector for the development of dairy infrastructure.

– In 2020, India announced a 15,000-crore Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund.

What is the way forward?

Transition to an economy that promotes a lifestyle and diet based on plant nutrients. Our huge population is a strain on the limited resources we have, and so depending on animal-based sources of food such as milk is a problem. Also, research by the University of Oxford indicates that a shift to a plant-based diet could free up 75% of agricultural land.

Raising crops only for human use may boost available food calories by up to 70%, effectively feeding 4 billion people.

Large investments aimed at boosting animal agriculture that will lead to climate change should be discouraged.

India:

Food system transition policy: India needs to grow and consume food differently. It must develop a comprehensive policy that

– moves farmers to sustainable modes of plant-based food production

– diverts subsidies from industrial livestock production and its associated inputs, and

– looks at job creation, social justice, poverty reduction, animal protection and better public health as multiple aspects of a single solution.

Source: This post is based on the article “Do not ignore livestock’s contribution to climate change” published in Livemint on 25th Nov 2021.

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