How Can the Dairy Sector Help Mitigate Climate Change?
This post written by Kevin Burkum, Chief Communications Officer, Global Dairy Platform.
I’m going to begin with a bold statement: the global dairy sector can be a solution to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Please give me a second to explain. Six billion people around the world regularly rely on dairy as an important source of nutrition. Everyone has the right to wholesome, nutrient-dense food that is accessible and affordable. New estimates indicate that one in two children have at least one micronutrient deficiency, and many have multiple deficiencies. Healthy diets including dairy products can protect against the devastating effects of malnutrition and noncommunicable diseases.
In addition to nutritional benefits, the dairy sector also provides economic growth and builds strong, resilient economies that can transform the lives of individuals, families and communities. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 600 million people live on dairy farms and another 400 million rely on the full-time jobs in support of the industry. Of the 133 million dairy farms in the world, 37 million are led by women. And of the 240 million full-time jobs dairy provides, 80 million are held by women. Dairy empowers women.
However, like all agriculture sectors, dairy must do more to reduce its impact on the planet.
Pathways to Dairy Net Zero
Which is why the Pathways to Dairy Net Zero global climate initiative was launched last year with Global Dairy Platform (GDP), International Dairy Federation, the International Livestock Research Institute, IFCN Dairy Research Network, Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform and the Dairy Sustainability Framework to reduce its impact on the planet. The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) is a knowledge partner with support from FAO.
At the recent COP27 Climate Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the dairy sector reported on the initiative’s progress. More than 150 leading organizations have since pledged their support, including the 10 largest dairy companies in the world, government agencies (including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)) and academic institutions. Collectively, these supporters comprise more than 40 percent of global dairy production.
Research is Identifying Practical Solutions
Research commissioned as part of Pathways to Dairy Net Zero has identified the primary dairy production systems throughout the world, along with potential mitigation options and their estimated impact on emissions reduction. The research, led by GRA and FAO, is defining the composition of GHGs emitted by the various dairy production systems and modeling the impact on warming of cumulative emissions for each GHG. This work is critical because each gas has a different effect and unique longevity in the atmosphere. For instance, while methane is a highly potent GHG, it breaks down in the atmosphere in 12 years. Other gases, such as carbon dioxide, can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.
Although mitigation options will vary by each dairy production system, some of the primary pathways include improving animal health, increasing feed digestibility, enhanced manure storage and treatment, more efficient fertilizer use and the potential adoption of methane-inhibiting feed additives.
Progress in Both Developed and Emerging Markets
Dairy companies around the world are reducing their impact on the environment by improving farming and production practices and developing new technologies. FAO reports that during the period from 2005–2015, the global dairy sector’s emission intensity declined by 11 percent. Dairy farming has become more efficient, which is resulting in declining emission intensities per unit of product all over the world.
Many of the best practices that have already been developed are being implemented in emerging dairy countries, where approximately 80 percent of the global dairy sector’s emissions are generated. To help facilitate and accelerate these efforts, the global dairy sector, the Global Methane Pledge (GMP), FAO and others have invited 10 developing dairy countries to join P2DNZ as “early adopters.” Collectively these countries represent more than 30 percent of the sector’s global GHG emissions.
The initial focus has been on East Africa, including Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. At COP27, the Green Climate Fund announced a funding partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, FAO and GDP with support from USAID, GMP, and Global Methane Hub. The U.S. $3.5 million is earmarked for project preparation with the objective of leveraging up to $400 million in financing to help transition dairy systems in those countries to lower-emission, climate-resilient pathways.
Planning is now underway for P2DNZ programs in Costa Rica, Uruguay, Colombia, Pakistan, Vietnam and possibly India.
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About Global Dairy Platform
GDP is a not-for-profit industry association representing the global dairy sector. GDP’s membership includes more than 95 leading dairy cooperatives, companies, associations, scientific bodies and other partners that collaborate pre-competitively to lead and build evidence on dairy’s role in a sustainable diet. GDP members produce approximately 33 percent of the world’s milk, with operations in more than 150 countries.