‘Flawed’ system gives Ireland a bigger footprint than Los Angeles

It’s because the current greenhouse gas assessment methodologies are flawed, said Dr Frank Mitloehner, at the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience.
‘Flawed’ system gives Ireland a bigger footprint than Los Angeles

Los Angeles: The Alltech ONE Virtual Experience was told the city of 13m has been given a smaller carbon footprint than Ireland because greenhouse gas assessment methodologies are flawed.
Los Angeles: The Alltech ONE Virtual Experience was told the city of 13m has been given a smaller carbon footprint than Ireland because greenhouse gas assessment methodologies are flawed.

Delegates to a prestigious US agri-food conference were shocked to hear that Ireland, with a population of 4m, has been given a bigger carbon footprint than Los Angeles, with 13m people.

It’s because the current greenhouse gas assessment methodologies are flawed, said Dr Frank Mitloehner, at the Alltech ONE Virtual Experience.

He said current methodologies do not include the real warming impact of methane (emitted by livestock), and leave out the vast sequestration potential of grasslands, soils, and forests, of which Los Angeles has none, and Ireland a lot.

More than 23,000 attendees for the virtual conference, from 118 countries, heard Los Angeles has carbon emissions per year rated at 50m tonnes, and Ireland 60m tonnes.

Flawed greenhouse gas assessment is “a very dangerous situation that has really gotten animal agriculture into a lot of trouble”, said Dr Mitloehner, a professor and air quality specialist at the prestigious University of California Davis.

He said 560 teragrams of methane is emitted into the world’s atmosphere every year, from fossil fuel production and use, agriculture and waste, biomass burning, wetlands, and other natural emissions.

But most people don’t take account of the 550 teragrams of methane taken out of the atmosphere.

This is at the root of misconceptions; net emissions per year are 10 teragrams, but everybody talks about 560.

Dr Mitloehner held out hope of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) greenhouse gas assessment methodology being changed, because one of the IPCC senior authors, is Myles Allen of Oxford University.

Prof Allen has devised a new way of quantifying methane’s effect.

Prof Allen was invited by the New Zealand government to advise on its climate plan. And they ended up with separate regulations for short-lived climate pollutant such as methane, and long-lived pollutants such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide stay in the atmosphere up to 1,000 years; methane from livestock is gone after 10 years.

Dr Mitloehner also revealed that a project in California which has reduced methane by 25% in less than five years, thus cooling the atmosphere, indicates that animal agriculture could be climate neutral in less than five years.

The state incentivised farmers and ranchers who want to reduce emissions, with, for example, finance for anaerobic digesters or alternative manure management practices.

This included covered slurry lagoons from which gases are captured and converted into renewable natural gas for transport fuel.

The system suits large dairy farms where manure is concentrated.

For grazing beef herds, additives or vaccines can change methane production in the rumen.

Asked when carbon sequestration from agriculture, for example grass in Ireland, will be taken into account when calculating net emissions, Dr Mitloehner said sequestration from grazing lands is still not well enough understood to put numbers on it.

But grasslands in California had been shown to sequester more carbon than forests.

He said the most important goal in his career is making animal agriculture climate-neutral.

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