High Steaks: Taking methane from animal farming out of its blindspot

October 2022 Report
High steaks 02 - website card

Executive summary

Reductions in methane (CH4) emissions – the second most important greenhouse gas (GHG), responsible for about 0.5°C of warming today – give us a clear and immediate pathway to slow the rate of global heating. The President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, referred to methane reductions as ‘the lowest hanging fruit of climate policies’ at the launch of the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 in Glasgow. The Pledge obliges its signatories to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

Agriculture, and in particular the livestock sector, is by far the largest source of anthropogenic methane in the EU, responsible for 53% of methane emissions. However, under a business-as-usual scenario (i.e. with only existing measures in place), livestock methane is expected to drop by a mere 3.7% by 2030. Recently, Bloomberg reported that a leaked paper from the European Commission warned that the EU will not meet the reductions that it has committed to under the Pledge unless it increases the focus on methane reductions in agriculture.

This confirms the findings of our earlier study,6 carried out by consultancy CE Delft, which showed that the EU is on track to achieve only around a 17% methane reduction with existing measures and recently proposed policies. The study also showed the EU has significant potential to cut its methane emissions – by 49–68% – if it implements methane reduction measures across all three sectors covered in the report, and by as much as 36% by focusing solely on the agricultural sector.

This briefing, prepared by Changing Markets Foundation, with contributions from the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), identifies current and future policies that could impact on methane reductions in the EU by 2030. The overall assessment demonstrates that there is a policy vacuum to tackle methane emissions from livestock farming. While methane emissions in the energy sector are being addressed by a dedicated regulation proposed by the European Commission in December 2021, methane emissions in the agricultural sector are addressed only by a set of patchy measures spread across a wide range of policies. Overall, these fail to enforce mitigating measures that will reduce methane emissions in the livestock sector:

  • The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), the cornerstone policy dealing with agricultural matters, was found to have very limited impact on livestock emissions (particularly in the countries with the highest emissions).
  • The Effort Sharing Regulation, whose purpose is to set targets for Member States for the period 2021–2030 for non-CO2 emissions in a variety of sectors including agriculture, fails to set specific targets for agricultural methane emissions and contains potential loopholes that may limit GHG reductions in agriculture.
  • There is still room for improvement with policies under revision, most notably the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which is currently going through a co-decision process.
  • The upcoming Sustainable Food System (SFS) Law (2023) could also provide important leverage, encouraging a shift to healthier diets, which is the single measure with the highest potential for methane reductions.

The European Commission has traditionally been biased towards policies that protect the interests of the agri-food industry rather than the climate and environment. Our research on the influence of the farm lobby on the decisions around IED has shown that, in the two years up to April 2022, the Commissioner for Agriculture and/or his cabinet met with agri-food industry and industrial farming representatives almost three times more than with civil society organisations. This undue influence resulted in the IED proposal being watered down just days before its publication. Such bias must be rectified, particularly as the agricultural sector and food production in general are highly dependent on a stable climate and would therefore benefit from more ambitious climate policies.

This policy briefing clearly shows that the EU must ramp up actions to achieve the necessary methane reductions, especially in the agriculture sector. The European Commission should propose a specific methane reduction target, as suggested by the European Parliament in its report on the Effort Sharing Regulation. The target should be set for 2030 and align with the general climate ambition of the EU and with the Global Methane Pledge.

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