Agricultural policy and management help China mitigate climate change

Animal protein production in China has increased by 800% over the past 40 years, driven by population growth, urbanization and rising worker wages. However, the amount of global warming nitrous oxide released by livestock in the country has not increased as rapidly, thanks to science-based policies and farm management interventions in the way animals are fed and kept. recycled manure.

These findings are featured in research published May 19 in Nature Food. The study, “Policy-Enabled Stabilization of Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Livestock Production in China Over 1978-2017,” was authored by 12 researchers from 10 institutions in the United States and China, including Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P Lynch Dean of Cornell CALS and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Global Development.

“As the world’s population grows, we will need every weapon in our arsenal in the fight against climate change, including reducing nitrous oxide emissions from animal production,” Houlton said. “This study shows a promising path to limiting these emissions through a coordinated national approach that combines policy interventions with the adoption of more efficient technologies and farming methods.”

Consumption of livestock products has increased, particularly in developing countries, due to increasing wealth and urbanization. Global animal production accounts for about 8% of total man-made greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. However, animal production is responsible for around 24-44% of total global emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

Over the past 40 years, while global nitrous oxide emissions have increased by 30%, those in China have increased by 286%, the researchers found; however, this increase occurred as animal protein production in the country increased by approximately 800%, suggesting that science-based policies and farm management choices can help increase food production while mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases.

In their paper, the researchers explored what factors have helped reduce nitrous oxide emissions in China and what policies could support future mitigation efforts. Nationally, the most effective climate mitigation strategy has been the adoption of anaerobic digesters – a technology that converts livestock manure into electricity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The most cost-effective strategy was the adoption of low-protein feeds.

The researchers suggest that the greatest potential for future greenhouse gas reduction would come from a combination of anaerobic digestion and composting on farms; these management strategies would require good planning, policy guidance and financial support from the Chinese government.

“The bad news is that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, including nitrous oxide,” Houlton said. “But it would be even worse without the substantial mitigation efforts in China, which have improved agricultural efficiency while beginning to decouple production from emissions. Policy incentives that promote the adoption of circular systems in agriculture, including anaerobic digesters, will be key to reaping the gains we have seen and may even eventually reverse emissions.

This research – led by Yi Zheng, professor and associate dean in the School of Environmental Science and Engineering at the Southern University of Science and Technology – was supported by the Chinese Academy’s Strategic Priority Research Program of Science, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the California Strategic Growth Council’s Climate Change Research Program and the United States Department of Energy.

Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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