The pastoral consequences of global warming
The issues surrounding climate change are becoming more and more urgent the world over. And tackling those problems goes well beyond simply restricting certain activities or imposing additional taxes on oil and gas companies.

Next on the list are farming enterprises — namely, agriculture and animal husbandry.

    Livestock – responsible for anthropogenic emissions?

    According to research from the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, transport is responsible for about 16 % of all anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, while agriculture is responsible for 13 % and the oil and gas sector 12 %.

    Experts believe that livestock production is behind 9 % of carbon dioxide emissions and up to 40 % of methane emissions. According to forecasts, greenhouse gas emissions in the farming, forestry and fisheries sectors nearly doubled over the past 50 years and could rise by another third by 2050.

     Though it may seem curious, animals, not people, are the biggest “culprits” in much of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. In their process of digestion, intestinal fermentation accounts for up to 40 % of emissions in this sector. On the whole, it is horned livestock that produces the most emissions.

    But there is no call to make yet another argument in favour of vegetarianism. The use of synthetic fertiliser in market gardening and crop production is responsible for 13 % of greenhouse gas emissions.

    Methane emissions are the most dangerous aspect of agriculture. Methane is the second most significant gas responsible for climate change – and 1 kg of methane emissions has the equivalent effect of 84 kg of carbon dioxide.

    According to preliminary data, the concentrations of methane in the atmosphere last year were the highest every recorded by satellite observation since 2003. And methane “lives” in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than does carbon dioxide – for about 10 years, not 300, so slowing down climate change can be accomplished much more quickly if these emissions can be reduced.

    Taxing cows

    Last week, the Russian president’s special representative on digitalisation and technological development, Dmitry Peskov, suggested that sooner or later a tax on meat could be anticipated.

    “We all thought that a carbon tax was something far away. The tax was introduced and that made us think. As long as the temperature of the planet continues to rise, models will continue to look for other sources of CO2,” he said. “Take agriculture. This means that within a few years we will first become indignant and later we will have to adopt a tax on meat.”

    Russia’s Finance Ministry ha said no tax on meat of any kind was being discussed or under consideration.

    “There are no plans to introduce a tax on meat in Russia,” the ministry said. “The Russian Finance Ministry is not preparing any adjustment of this kind to tax legislation. The issue is not being discussed or examined in any way.”

   Peskov later explained that what he had meant was not a tax on individuals, but rather on countries. It could be introduced as an instrument to regulate a country’s carbon footprint, similar to measures planned by the European Union.

    “The world’s biggest producer of meat remains China, with Brazil in second place,” Peskov said. “That is one of the reasons why this issue is not critical at this time in Russia.”

    “The tax will be anchored in the development of a policy on carbon footprints, much the same as trade in quotas,” he wrote on social media. “In all likelihood, there will be an active world-wide discussion on this after 2025 as a rapid rise in temperatures will require a re-examination of the Paris agreement.” 

   Peskov believes that of cardinal importance to Russia is the fact that for the moment there is no model of economic regeneration for agriculture entailing a minimum carbon footprint and the creation and nurturing of a sector to compensate for it linked to the use of proteins.

    “In all scenarios, a meat tax on individuals, prompting a rise in its cost, is simply not occurring. But in order to avoid greater risk, even for countries, point no. 3 must be tackled right now and not when the problem comes around to bite you again.”

    Vegetarianism in the name of peace

    Experts point to various ways to reduce emissions in the livestock industry.

    For instance, the development of the synthetic meat sector – though for the moment it is more expensive than natural meat and has quite a different taste. There is, however, little doubt that developing this technology will lead to lower prices and improved quality.

    Another way to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions could be a shift in consumption towards a plant-based diet.

   Thirty dairy companies in the world produce the same level of emissions as does all of Great Britain. The carbon footprint of meat-eaters is twice that of vegans.

   Of course, the entire world is not going to go vegetarian, but it is clear that people in the 20th and 21st centuries east considerably more meat than was the case 100 years ago.

    Scientists say that consumption of meat by Europeans is now twice the norm and synthetic meat – although not carbon-neutral – has less effect on the future of the planet.

    But there is another side to any transition to vegetarianism – severe shortages of farmland. Producing 1,000 kilocalories of beef requires 119 sq metres of land – 1/100 the area required for potatoes, root vegetables or tofu.

    Researchers have already suggested altering the Paris climate agreement to include the requirement to reduce the number of head of livestock – primarily cattle. That would lead to changes in diet and, instead of beef, greater emphasis on the use of chicken or mutton.  Goats, for instance, produce fewer emissions than do cows and in several countries farms with cattle have begun switching to goat herds.

     Yet another option to solve the problem involves changing cattle feed in order to reduce flatulence and, as a result, emissions. Cows produce methane as a result of microbes in the stomach during digestion of fibre.

   The European company Mootral has developed cattle feed containing garlic and citrus fruit in order to reduce flatulence. The feed reduces methane emissions by a third, the company says, and farmers using it can participate in trade of greenhouse gas quotas. Feeding livestock aquatic plants reduces emissions still further – by 80 %.

    In any event, schemes to reduce CO2 and methane emissions are needed now as it is clear that within a few years the problem of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture will become as critical as it is now for the oil and gas industry.

    But unlike with industry, introducing trans-border tax regulations for foodstuffs could provoke serious social turmoil.


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August 2021