To meet international climate targets, more than half of developing countries plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to livestock. However, most developing countries must improve emissions accounting systems in order to document mitigation in the livestock sector.
A 2016 survey showed that only five of 140 developing countries interviewed had greenhouse gas measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) methods in place that capture reductions in emissions related to increases in livestock productivity or improvements in agricultural management. Most countries use “Tier 1” reporting based on number of animals. As a result, countries could only report on mitigation achieved through decreasing the number of animals, even if they were achieving mitigation through changes in practice. Given that 92 countries included livestock emissions in their nationally determined contributions, countries have strong interest in improving MRV as soon as possible.
Research on the greenhouse gas impact potential from USAID Feed the Future agricultural development projects found that productivity increases due to livestock development activities, such as improved feed management, reduce the emission intensity (emissions per weight of product) of meat and milk. Currently, projects don’t have the capacity to calculate emissions or emission reductions, and national agencies don’t have the means to aggregate sub-national data to inform climate action reporting.
As part of a multi-year effort, USAID is collaborating with partners to support the design and implementation of practical, scientifically sound MRV systems that can capture mitigation of livestock greenhouse gas emissions achieved through increased productivity, feed regime changes, manure management, etc. Efforts to work with technical experts and co-develop information resources are helping countries meet their climate policy and sustainable development goals.
Livestock monitoring, reporting and verification: Current practices and opportunities
Capturing emissions and emission reductions from livestock is complex. In Tier 1 MRV, countries estimate livestock types and population, and sometimes animal breeds, product (dairy or meat) and age at slaughter. However, to accurately estimate emissions and emission reductions, MRV systems must use emission estimates that take into account feed composition and amount, manure management practice, and a host of other factors.
In February 2017, 32 livestock and MRV experts from more than 23 countries gathered to analyze livestock MRV systems in multiple countries and systems. The group identified the status of MRV, potential quality-improvement actions, and special topics requiring further research and analysis, such as coordinating data gathering amongst multiple sub-national and regional stakeholders.
Based on the challenges identified by developing countries, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and the Global Research Alliance for Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) published “Measurement, reporting, and verification of livestock GHG emissions by developing countries in the UNFCCC: current practices and opportunities for improvement” in November 2017. The report’s recommendations focus on both technical methods and policies, institutions and supporting conditions. Technical experts are using this report to inform their countries’ reporting to the UNFCCC and establish systems for improving sub-national and national MRV systems.
They are also applying the science to the socio-political contexts in their own countries. In May 2018, representatives from Brazil, Guatemala, and Uruguay presented at the 2018 Bonn Climate Change Conference about how their countries are attempting to connect national-level MRV with livestock emissions accounting at the project or regional level.
Filling data gaps
Among the recommendations from the MRV report, technical experts prioritized the need to identify practical methods for filling data gaps underlying national inventories, the backbone of the MRV process. If developing countries can employ scientifically robust and feasible estimation methods for filling activity data gaps, they will be able to compile advanced “Tier 2” inventories and, critically, estimate climate change mitigation impacts using Tier 2 approaches.
Experts in livestock inventory, uncertainty, remote sensing, and agricultural statistics joined MRV specialists at a meeting in July to discuss strategies for filling activity-level data gaps for livestock emissions in developing countries. The experts suggested that the upcoming activity data gap report* address the dearth of guidance on conducting uncertainty analysis, demonstrating transparency, and conducting quality assurance/quality control measures for both greenhouse gas inventories and estimating emissions.*
Experts also requested that the report provide policy-relevant analyses. To this end, Tier 2 MRV methods offer leaders of national and subnational mitigation actions the capability to track emission impacts of projects based on improvements in animal performance and farm-level efficiency of production.
Contributing to sustainable development goals
Through an initial focus on the livestock sector, it is expected this MRV work will reveal opportunities to achieve sustainable development goals around climate action, no poverty, and zero hunger, among others.
As climate action becomes more urgent, improved MRV will become increasingly critical in livestock, as well as other agriculture sectors. It is hoped that the MRV systems established in the livestock sector can be a template for other sectors.
Efforts to improve measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) in the livestock sector are funded by USAID, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the government of New Zealand, and the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has also contributed support. CCAFS is carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors and through bilateral funding agreements. For details please visit https://ccafs.cgiar.org/donors. The views expressed in this document cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of these organizations.
* The activity data gap report will be published by June 2019.
Julianna White and Noel Gurwick
Noel Gurwick is a science advisor on the sustainable landscapes team in the Office of Global Climate Change at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) where he focuses on land-based solutions to mitigate climate change.
Julianna White is the Program Manager for Low Emissions Development at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). She is based at the University of Vermont.