Livestock And Greenhouse Gases — Key Messages

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The recent 4th International Greenhouse Gases and Animal Agriculture (GGAA) Conference in Banff attracted more than 400 scientists from 39 countries, and part of the organizing committee, a group of Albertans had a front-row seat.

This group included several researchers based at one of the country’s leading centres for livestock production sustainability research, at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Lethbridge – Dr. Sean McGinn, Dr. Karen Beauchemin, Dr. Tim McAllister and Dr. Xiying Hao. The team also included Dr. Erasmus Okine of another major agroenvironment research institution, the University of Alberta.

Key take-home points

Whether you were a delegate on the front lines or a naysayer looking in through the media, there were some key developments that came out of the session.

This is a worldwide effort.Emissions is an area where everyone has a stake and where progress made in one part of the world can often be applied elsewhere. As a result, there is real opportunity and interest in collaboration. GGAA is a leading example of this. So is the newly formed Global Research Alliance, an international network dedicated to bringing countries together to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions. New Zealand, with over half of its emissions livestock related, has been a major driver of this initiative. Canada is also a key player and this will be a key initiative to watch for progress over the next several years.

Science is leading.There are no easy answers or silver bullets to the greenhouse gases issue. The world is looking to science to provide the sophisticated strategies and innovative approaches that are necessary to meet this challenge, and researchers around the globe are stepping up to the plate.

Industry is responding.Livestock organizations from Canada and elsewhere are partners in supporting the research, and industry is helping to drive the development and adoption of new products and strategies to manage emissions. Offset markets are emerging that open potential for producers to gain and sell emissions credits based on good mitigation management practices. In fact, Alberta is the first jurisdiction in North America with legislated requirements for greenhouse gas emission reductions, which has created a market of carbon trading between regulated emitters and farmers.

Economics in learning stage.The economic incentive for livestock producers and their industries to get on board is in early stages. But the good news for now is mitigation strategies often dovetail with good general farm management practices. Researchers at GGAA say their focus is not just how to cut emissions but how to do that while supporting livestock productivity and production benefits at the same time. Alberta is taking a lead role.

Policy in early stage.Many governments are looking to the science community represented at GGAA to help formulate policy. This is critical to make sure emissions targets are science based, realistic and achievable. It’s also important that policy on this issue is balanced with the needs of feeding a burgeoning world population. As a number of scientists pointed out, efficiency and reducing emissions per unit of food produced is the focus, rather than simply cutting production.

Some countries are taking the bit in their teeth.New Zealand and Australia are two that are front and centre, with several new agreements and partnerships in place. Canada is among a broad number of additional countries expected to continue to increase focus on engaging the developing world, which includes some of the biggest emitters who would benefit from the support of outside partners.

More information from the conference is available in a Special Meeting Report through the conference website,www.ggaa2010.org.

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