Implementation of the Global Methane Pledge- What Does that Mean for Agriculture?

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (left) and Joe Biden, President of the United States of America (right) line the COP26 panel, as they discuss joining the Global Methane Pledge. Photo Credit: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street. 

Written by Rebecca Crook, AgNext Media Intern.

On November 2nd, 2021, nations from all over the globe met at the COP26 convention in Glasgow, UK to discuss further actions to aid in reducing the effects of climate change on a worldwide scale. Both the USA and the EU pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Their agreement is known as the Global Methane Pledge. Despite the Global title, countries such as India, Russia, and China did not agree to the pledge. 

During the conference, President Biden talked about his reasoning for pledging to reduce methane: “One of the most important things we can do between now and 2030, to keep 1.5C in reach, reduces our methane emissions as soon as possible,” President Biden said. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the agricultural industry is responsible for approximately ten percent of the total Greenhouse Gas Emissions that were produced by the United States in the year 2019. The agricultural industry’s main role in the world economy is producing meat by-products, in order to feed the world’s rapidly growing human population. Cattle are commonly attributed to the issue of global warming, as they have a digestive system that emits methane emissions in order to process the food that they eat. 

Ruminants naturally emit methane due to the compartment in the stomach known as the rumen. This chamber is responsible for fermentation, which allows the animal to break down food before it continues through the rest of the digestive system. As the animal regurgitates or belches, this methane is then expelled into the external environment. The agricultural industry is actively working towards researching new methods in attempts to limit and reduce methane emissions that are emitted by ruminants. At AgNext, we lead these projects; we are constantly conducting new research studies that measure and capture methane emissions, leading to an overall reduction in methane emissions from ruminants. For a more in-depth explanation of methane emissions, reference our blog post titled “Ruminants as Part of a Sustainable Agriculture System.”

So, what does the implementation of the Global Methane Pledge mean for the agricultural industry within the United States? President Joe Biden has released an action plan for methane emissions, which covers multiple industries within the USA that currently are responsible for methane emissions. The full plan, entitled “U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan” can be found here. In the section pertaining to agriculture, President Biden brings multiple ideas to the table, including as follows…

1. Tracking emissions

Accounting for methane emissions includes measuring and recording methane data in a method that is able to be used in research. The Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan states that “the backbone of the initiative is the identification, confirmation, and tracking of climate-smart agricultural practices and their climate benefits—including practices that reduce methane emissions. Pilots and demonstrations will finance the deployment of climate-smart agriculture practices like prescribed grazing on rangeland, anaerobic digesters, and enhanced efficiency or reduced fertilizer use.” 

2. USDA leadership and funding 

The Biden Administration endorsed the United States Department of Agriculture to lead and direct the newly implemented changes regarding funding for the leaders in the agricultural industry. “USDA also will improve and expand on conservation and farming practice surveys to better track changes in adoption rates over time. USDA will build and improve farm-scale decision support tools to help farmers quantify their greenhouse footprint and estimate the benefits of taking actions.”

3. Feedstuff research 

An approach to lowering overall methane emissions from ruminants revolves around investigating feedstuffs that require less fermentation in the rumen of the stomach. The Biden Administration allocated funding through the USDA in order to kickstart this branch of research. “USDA’s research agencies will conduct and sponsor research to assess the efficacy of methane reduction technologies, including feed additives and manure management systems.”

4. Methane cover collection

Methane cover collection involves trapping methane before it is released back into the atmosphere. President Biden committed “…to upgrad(ing) existing anaerobic lagoons by installing covers and collecting methane for use or destruction; installing anaerobic methane digesters that collect methane for use or destruction.”

5. Generalized reduction practices 

This section summarizes the plan that is to be implemented to tackle the issue of lowering methane emissions by the year 2030. “The ARS’s work will be complemented by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, which will examine the proportions of different greenhouse gases emitted by stages of the food system supply chain, and assess the effectiveness of approaches to encourage the adoption of methane reducing technologies and practices. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture also will continue to invest in manure management and methane-related research, education, and extension projects, including offering competitively-funded grants on a wide range of topics including innovative approaches to manure management, feed formulation or use of novel alternative feedstuffs, rumen microbiology, and managing emissions to the atmosphere and hydrosphere in various animal production systems.”

At AgNext, we strive to lead research initiatives that pave the way to a sustainable future for the agricultural sector. We work to implement methane mitigation, to boost emission testing, and to launch a plan to generate our research so that it can be integrated into daily agricultural practices. Our goal is simple: assisting in lowering global emissions within the agricultural sector by continuing to conduct research and jumpstart crucial conversations surrounding sustainability.   

Works Cited: 

COP26: Global Methane Pledge will see new era of fast-track greenhouse gas emission reductions, says Maria Spyraki. (2021, November 3). The Parliament Magazine. https://www.theparliamentmagazine.eu/news/article/cop26-global-methane-pledge-will-see-new-era-of-fasttrack-greenhouse-gas-emission-reductions-explains-maria-spyraki

COP26: US and EU announce global pledge to slash methane – BBC News. (2021, November 2). BBC News; BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-59137828

Homepage | Global Methane Pledge. (n.d.). Homepage | Global Methane Pledge. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.globalmethanepledge.org/

How Do Cattle Produce Methane? | CLEAR Center. (2019, October 23). CLEAR Center. https://clear.ucdavis.edu/explainers/how-do-cows-produce-methane

Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions | US EPA. (2015, December 29). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions