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Latest Agriculture Emissions Data Show Rise of Factory Farms
By Ben Lilliston
New data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows a steady increase in agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions, much of it linked to industrial systems of crop production and the rise of factory farm systems of animal production. The annually updated GHG data is designed to track U.S. emissions related to the Paris Climate Agreement and to inform national and state-level climate policy.
The EPA's Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2017 charts GHG emissions both by type and by sector using formats and methodologies established through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Total U.S. GHG emissions have increased just 1.6 percent since 1990 (with emissions decreasing slightly in recent years), at least partially due to cuts in coal production and growth in renewable energy use. Despite these modest declines, the U.S. is off track to reach its Paris climate commitments, and according to Climate Action Tracker, a series of Trump administration regulatory rollbacks threaten to slow progress further.
While emissions in many sectors are declining, those from the agriculture sector have increased more than 10 percent since 1990, according to the EPA. The agency found that agriculture accounted for 8.4 percent of U.S. emissions in 2017. That percentage does not include on-farm energy and fuel use (counted in the energy section of the inventory), nor does it count emissions related to shifts in cropland (counted in the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry section), the production of ammonia fertilizer (included in the Industrial Processes section of the report), nor other elements of the food system related to transport, processing and waste.
Via EPA Draft Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2017
Within the agriculture sector, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 16.2 percent, methane emissions by 14.4 percent and nitrous oxide emissions by 7.3 percent since 1990, the EPA reported. Methane is 28 times as potent as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide is nearly 300 times as potent.
The increase in methane emissions mirrors the rapid expansion of factory farms in the U.S. over the last two decades, where thousands of animals are raised in confined spaces and include massive manure lagoons. Ruminant animals like cattle are the major source of agricultural methane emissions because of their unique digestive systems. Enteric fermentation emissions, primarily from beef and dairy cattle, have risen 6.9 percent since 1990. "This increase in [methane] emissions from 1990 to 2017 generally follows the increasing trends in cattle populations," found the EPA.
Emissions related to manure management rose 66 percent since 1990. The EPA reported, "The majority of this increase is due to swine and dairy cow manure, where emissions increased 29 and 134 percent, respectively." The EPA pointed out that "the shift toward larger dairy cattle and swine facilities since 1990 has translated into an increasing use of liquid manure management systems, which have higher potential CH4 (methane) emissions than dry systems."
Manure management is also a source of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, both directly and through the application of manure on fields as fertilizer. N2O emissions related to manure increased 34 percent from 1990 to 2017 — once again mostly associated with the rise of large-scale operations, which produce massive amounts of concentrated waste that is often over-applied as fertilizer.
Nitrous oxide emissions related to agricultural soil management, including synthetic fertilizer application and tillage practices, increased by six percent from 1990. The increase in the use of synthetic fertilizers explains part of the increase. The EPA reported, "Direct N2O emissions from croplands occur throughout all of the cropland regions but tend to be high in the Midwestern Corn Belt Region (Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and eastern Nebraska), where a large portion of the land is used for growing highly fertilized corn and N-fixing soybean crops."
The EPA also noted a 109 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions related to the application of urea fertilizer, a form of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. And, the EPA's land use chapter documented the loss of more than 10 million hectares of cropland since 1990, largely due to development. This decrease in cropland resulted in a loss in the rate of carbon storage of about 44 percent since 1990. "This decline is largely due to lower sequestration rates and less annual cropland enrolled in the CRP (the set aside Conservation Reserve Program)," said the report.
A noticeable gap in the data is the evaluation of diverse types of farming systems, including agroecological systems which incorporate more types of crop rotations and soil health-building practices like the use of perennials or cover crops. Systems focused on building soil health can better withstand weather extremes like intense rains or drought, according to the USDA. Recent research indicates that regenerative organic systems, and sustainably managed, pasture-based systems can actually sequester more GHGs than they produce.
The methodology for tracking GHG emissions is evolving, and this is particularly true for the agriculture sector where farming systems can result in dramatically different emission levels. The latest EPA data indicate that the increases in agriculture GHGs are linked primarily to the expansion of industrial systems of production for crops and animals. As policymakers develop future climate policy, it will be critical that they differentiate between industrial, factory farm systems and regenerative systems of production that can help respond to climate change.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Randi Spivak
Slashing two national monuments in Utah may have received the most attention, but Trump's Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service have been quietly, systematically ceding control of America's public lands to fossil fuel, mining, timber and livestock interests since the day he took office.
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
- Brazil's New President Could Spell Catastrophe for the Amazon ... ›
- Amazon Deforestation Increase Prompts Germany to Cut $39.5M in ... ›
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