CALGARY – As Canada redoubles its efforts to reduce harmful methane emissions, experts say one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome is cow burping.
Methane, a clear and odorless gas, accounts for only 13% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, but because it is better than carbon dioxide at trapping heat, it is thought to be responsible for at least a third of the global warming recorded to date. .
This makes it a high priority for governments looking to meet their climate change commitments. Earlier this month, Canada confirmed its support for the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce global emissions by 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. The initiative, led by the United States and Europe, will be launched at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland. in November.
Forty-three percent of Canada’s total methane emissions come from the oil and gas industry, and the federal government has already put in place regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry from 40 to 45 percent. percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Last week, Canada said its new target will be to align with the International Energy Agency’s recommendation that methane from industry oil and gas is to be reduced by 75% from 2012 levels by the end of this decade.
But when it comes to agriculture, there are no regulations or even federal targets in place. This despite the fact that industry is responsible for 24 percent of Canada’s total methane emissions.
Methane is a natural by-product of livestock digestion, which means it is released into the atmosphere whenever a beef cow or dairy cow burps or emits gas. And unlike oil and gas, where existing leak detection and repair technology can go a long way in reducing methane emissions, there is no obvious solution to the problem yet.
âI think the biology is a little more complicated on the agricultural side than on the oil and gas side,â said Tim McAllister, a researcher in Lethbridge, Alta., At Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. “I think a lot of oil and gas problems can be solved with engineering solutions.”
That’s not to say scientists don’t try. Around the world, research is being carried out on everything from optimizing livestock diets to adding feed additives – from nitrates to algae – with the goal of reducing methane emissions.
Scientists are also studying the possibility of a vaccine that could target methane-producing microbes in a cow’s intestine. Some researchers are even experimenting with installing mask-shaped accessories on a cow’s mouth to trap methane burps.
Between 1981 and 2011, the beef industry was able to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 15%, said Brenna Grant, director of Canfax Research Services, the research arm of The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association. . These improvements were largely due to improved feed quality and efficiency.
Grant said last year that the beef industry has set its own goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity from primary production by 33% over the next 10 years – a target that ‘she admitted ambitious.
âLet’s just say it’s going to be a stretch. And the point is, we wanted to make it a stretch, âshe said. âWe wanted it to be something that we really had to strive for and work on. “
Experts say that while a technology makes scientific sense, it must also make economic sense. No farmer will pay for a methane-reducing food additive unless they also improve their bottom line.
Guillaume Lhermie, director of the Simpson Center for Agricultural Policy and Public Education at the University of Calgary, said farmers so far have remained relatively unaffected by Canada’s current climate policies. The use of fuels on the farm, for example, remains exempt from federal carbon pricing.
But Lhermie said the beef industry should expect to come under increasing regulatory and government pressure in the years to come. He added that in order to avoid onerous emissions legislation and maintain greater freedom in production decisions, the industry must proactively tackle the problem.
âIt is almost certain that there will be increasing pressure to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector,â he said. “It could mean massive disruption for the industry.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 27, 2021.
Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press