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Contribution of Livestock to climate change
Jan 30, 2023
Enhance your UPSC CSE preparation with our daily dose of Current Affairs wherein we discuss topics that make news at National and International level. In today’s edition of our Current Affairs, we will discuss Contribution of Livestock to climate change. The topic’s relevance to the UPSC CSE syllabus is mentioned below.
For Prelims: General issues on Environmental Ecology, Biodiversity, and Climate Change
For Mains: GS Paper III (Conservation, environmental pollution, and degradation, environmental impact assessment)
About climate change and Livestock, Role of Livestock in Climate Change, Production of methane by Livestock, About Methane (CH4), Measures for mitigating methane emissions from livestock
Recently Rumin8, an Australian climate technology start-up that aims to curtail the methane emissions of cow burps received funding worth $12 million from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Livestock plays an important role in the Indian economy, but do they also contribute to climate change? Explain. (150 words, 10 marks)
About climate change and Livestock
The atmosphere contains natural greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide (N2O), and water vapor) as well as synthetic greenhouse gasses (hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)).
Since 1950, the concentration of the two most important greenhouse gases namely Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) has increased from 350 to 410 ppm (a rise of 28%) and from 1100 to 1875 ppb (a rise of 70%), respectively.
Globally in recent years, there has been a rising public concern about farm animals, dairy farms’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and their impact on global warming and climate change.
Research has found that increased CH4 emissions can be substantially attributed to animal farming for approx 35-55%.
In terms of CO2 equivalents, enteric fermentation and manure management emissions account for approximately 41% of agriculture’s overall GHG emissions.
Contribution of Livestock to climate change
Milk Production: Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from milk production account for over 70% of all GHG emissions before the farm gate.
Ruminant livestock: Ruminant livestock is expected to emit between 80 and 95 million tonnes of CH4 per year globally. Cattle and sheep production systems contribute up to 18% of total global GHG emissions.
Enteric fermentation: Enteric CH4 emissions from ruminant production are the most common source of greenhouse gases. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, enteric fermentation expels about 27% of all US CH4 emissions.
Animal husbandry: This is a substantial source of GHGs, accounting for 14.5% of world emissions, which is roughly the same as the transportation industry.
Ruminant species are hoofed grazing or browsing herbivores that chew the cud such as cows, sheep, goats, and buffaloes have a special type of digestive system.
The digestive system allows ruminant species to break down and digest food that non-ruminant species would be unable to digest.
Stomachs of ruminant animals have four compartments, one of which, the rumen, helps them to store partially digested food and let it ferment.
This partially digested and fermented food is regurgitated by the animals who chew through it again and finish the digestive process.
The fermentation procedure in the rumen generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, mainly through burping.
Given the huge numbers of cattle and sheep on farms in dairy-producing countries, these emissions add up to a significant volume.
About Methane (CH4)
Climate Change: Methane is one of the main drivers of climate change, responsible for 30% of the warming since preindustrial times, second only to carbon dioxide. However, for more than decades it is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.
C02 & CH4: While carbon dioxide (CO2) remains in the atmosphere for much longer than methane (CH4), CH4 is roughly 25 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and has an important short-term influence on the rate of climate change.
Ground-level ozone: It’s also the primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone, a colorless and highly irritating gas that forms just above the Earth’s surface. This contributes to 1 million premature deaths every year.
Rise in Methane: In 2022, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that the atmospheric levels of methane jumped 17 parts per billion in 2021, beating the previous record set in 2020.
Measures for mitigating methane emissions from livestock
Scientists have been working on it for quite some time now, as they are looking to make these animals more sustainable and less gassy.
Dietary solution: A 2021 study, published in the journal PLUS ONE, found that adding seaweed to cow feed can reduce methane formation in their guts by more than 80%.
Gene-modifying: Researchers are also trying to find gene-modifying techniques to curtail methane emissions in these animals.
Feed supplement: Using oil as a feed supplement also can suppress methanogenesis by substituting rumen fermentable organic matter in the diet and by biohydrogenation of unsaturated fatty acids, reducing the number of ruminal methanogens and protozoa.
Other ways: Dropping diet forage to concentrate ratios, incorporating rumen modifications and methane antagonists like bromoform or other phytocompounds in the diet, or increasing dietary oil content are all nutritional alternatives for methane mitigation
New Zealand announced they had started the world’s first genetic program to address the challenge of climate change by breeding sheep that emit lower amounts of methane in 2022.
New Zealand is also one of the first nations to develop policy-related solutions to this problem.
There is a need to perform more studies to find the most effective food supplement or its composition and contribute to reducing methane emissions without compromising animal health and production.
To meet future global demands, the livestock industry must investigate natural feed additives that improve nutrient utilization efficiency, provide antibiotic alternatives, and reduce ruminant methane emissions.
To evaluate methane emissions, there is a need to use reliable methods.
Since 1980s, the pre-industrial times, Methane has accounted for roughly 30% of global warming and is proliferating faster than at any other time. In fact, according to data from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, even as carbon dioxide emissions decelerated during the pandemic-related lockdowns of 2020, atmospheric methane shot up.
How does livestock contribute to the greenhouse effect?
Stomachs of ruminant animals have four compartments, one of which, the rumen, helps them to store partially digested food and let it ferment. This partially digested and fermented food is regurgitated by the animals who chew through it again and finish the digestive process. The fermentation procedure in the rumen generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas, mainly through burping.
What is the contribution of livestock to the agricultural sector?
India has vast livestock resources. The livestock sector contributes 4.11% of the GDP and 25.6% of the total Agriculture GDP. Livestock provides livelihood to 2/3rd of the rural community. It also provides employment to about 8.8% of the population in India.