Meat and aviation industries use cute ways to measure emissions

When it comes to telling the public about their emissions, the aviation industry keeps telling us how much their efficiency has improved. That is they can fly further on a certain amount of fuel. But what they don’t tell us is that their capacity keeps increasing so much that overall their emissions increase. The planes are bigger, they have more routes and there are more planes flying.

The meat and dairy industries have been doing this too. When the scientists at FAO calculated the emissions from the livestock industry in 2006 and found them to be 18% of total global emissions, the industries didn’t take it lying down. Here is a piece from the GRAIN website (GRAIN is an international organisation of small farmers)

“The FAO was blasted by the meat industry after it released a report in 2006 putting livestock’s share of global GHG emissions at 18 per cent. “You wouldn’t believe how much we were attacked”, said Samuel Jutzi, director of the animal production and health division of the FAO.[22] The FAO soon buckled under the pressure and agreed to establish a partnership with the meat industry’s main lobby groups to jointly reassess emissions from livestock.[23] Both the partnership’s Steering Committee and its Technical Advisory Groups are dominated by representatives of meat companies, their lobby groups and scientists funded by meat and dairy companies.

As a result of the FAO’s partnership with industry, it has shifted its focus towards a narrow assessment of “emissions intensity”, in which GHG emissions are examined per unit of output (per kg of meat, litre of milk or unit of protein). Measured this way, animals that are intensively raised for maximum output of meat and milk—by a few million farmers mostly in the US, Europe, Brazil, New Zealand and a few other rich countries—have a lower “emissions intensity” than the animals of poor farmers, which are raised for many more uses and without access to the high protein feed, antibiotics, growth promoters and hormones used by intensive livestock industries. Poor farmers are thus said to suffer from an “emissions intensity gap” and should be pushed into what is termed “sustainable intensification” or, more broadly, “climate smart agriculture”.[24]

So like the aviation industry, for “emissions intensity” read “efficiency”. More efficient but more capacity for doing it!

Unfortunately the difference is that the meat and dairy industries have persuaded the FAO to do this too so we all get figures that are skewed and only a small proportion of the population is even aware that meat and dairy contribute to emissions, particularly big meat and big dairy.

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New Zealand’s agricultural emissions are high

Nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions are from livestock. A shocking 46.1% for the year 2012 as calculated by the Ministry for the Environment. (MfE). A large proportion of this comes from beef and to a less extent sheep. The MfE paper tells us tells us that in 2012 we had 6.4 m dairy cattle, 3.8m beef cattle, 3.1 m sheep and 1 m deer. So a total of 14.3m ruminant livestock.

So I read their paper calculating our emissions, or more accurately skimmed through it, reading the less technical parts of it as it is hundreds of pages long. I was looking for indications of what Global Warming Potential they were using for methane. It was only when I was reading a book by Richard Oppenlander that I saw the statement that methane is 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and checked this out with Prof James Renwick of Victoria University. Yes he said that is the figure that scientists are taking now.

I finally discovered on a Stats NZ site that we do calculate our methane contribution with a GWP of 25 and once again questioned the climate science professor. He answered,

“Yes a GWP of 25 sounds right as they’ll be using GWP100. That’s still the standard under .the UNFCCC so is how we are required to report emissions (as I understand things), even though the science has clearly moved on to the two baskets approach. ”

But then I asked him if I was right to say the percentage contributed by agriculture would rise if methane GWP was 72, and he said no it would fall. So I was wrong, the headline above is misleading now and I will change it.

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