A STANDARDISED method to measure reductions in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from improved animal health is vital if countries are to be able to include those positive gains in their national commitments in the global fight against climate change.
A new report jointly prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Global Dairy Platform and the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, says diseases affecting animals, as well as how long animals lived and their overall productivity all had a significant impacts on GHG emissions.
FAO deputy director-general Maria Helena Semedo said the breakthrough report highlighted the importance of animal health and guided countries towards a more granular approach in evaluating the incorporation of that information into national commitments to help mitigate the climate crisis.
"There is currently no standardised method to include improved animal health in most countries' GHG national inventories or nationally determined contributions," the report reads.
"As a result, the importance of animal health is often not clearly reflected in countries' commitments to fight climate change.
"This means greater investments are needed to establish systems for measurement, reporting and verification."
Global Dairy Platform executive director Donald Moore said the livestock sector provided vital nutrition and livelihoods for more than a billion people worldwide as well as providing climate solutions.
"While this report clearly demonstrates the opportunity for improved animal health to contribute to climate mitigation, it also highlights the need to address critical data gaps and build capacity in low and middle-income countries, in particular," Mr Moore said.
The report says countries can develop a measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) system at a national level to be able to include animal health improvements in national climate commitments. But to do that, it's essential for countries to use the detailed methodologies known as Tier 2 or 3, developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report reads.
"This includes herd parameters to estimate impacts on animal numbers such as mortality, fertility, age at first parturition and replacement rate, as well as production data including milk yields and animal weights at different life stages," the report reads.
"Data on feed for different categories of animals and manure management systems are also critical as these have a strong influence on emission factors."
According to the report measuring parameters including the methane (CH4) conversion factor may even require using a Tier 3 approach, which involves more complex modelling and associated data.
"A key challenge concerns how emissions from the livestock sector are reported in national GHG inventories and included in NDCs. In their inventories, countries report direct emissions at sector level," the report reads.
"These emissions in the livestock sector include CH4 emissions from enteric fermentation in animals' digestive systems and CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from manure management.
"Emissions from feed production, processing and transport and energy use are reported under 'agricultural soils' or the energy sector."
The report also says animal health interventions cannot be considered in isolation.
For example, supply-chain emissions may diminish due to reduced needs for replacement animals or changes in the feed ration.
"Therefore, it is important to adopt a systems perspective and understand the drivers of supply-chain emissions," the report says.
The report says animal products not only represent a source of high-quality food but are also a source of income for many small farmers and animal holders, making a significant contribution to livelihoods and gross domestic product in many developing countries.
In Australia, direct livestock emissions are estimated to make up about 70 per cent of agricultural GHG emissions and 11pc of total emissions.
Livestock are recognised as the third largest source of GHG emissions after the energy and transport sectors.
Australia's red meat industry has set an ambitious target of being carbon neutral by 2030. The commitment means that by 2030, Australian beef, lamb and goat production, including lot feeding and meat processing, aim to make no net release of GHG emissions into the atmosphere.
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