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12968USA: Reuters tackles methane/livestock issue

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  • Pamela Rice
    May 1, 2007
    • 0 Attachment
      [EXCERPT: Farm animals produce lots of methane, a
      potent greenhouse gas that gets far less public
      attention than carbon dioxide ..... Methane
      concentrations have increased about 150 percent
      in the air since 1750 and now far exceed the
      natural range of the past 650,000 years, the
      U.N.'s climate panel says. ...... "What
      worries me is the increased methane coming out of
      the stomachs of ruminants, mainly for increased
      beef consumption within an increasingly wealthy
      world. The diet of the West has a big impact on
      the atmosphere."]


      http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/globalwarming_methane_dc;_ylt=ApNCgykTZI7a4ZGPk3pOOoSs0NUE

      The heat is on for greenhouse gas methane

      By David Fogarty
      Sun Apr 29, 2007

      Across the globe, chickens and pigs are doing
      their bit to curb global warming. But cows and
      sheep still have some catching up to do.

      The farm animals produce lots of methane, a
      potent greenhouse gas that gets far less public
      attention than carbon dioxide yet is at the heart
      of efforts to fight climate change.

      Government policies and a U.N.-backed system of
      emission credits is proving a money-spinner for
      investors, farmers and big polluters such as
      power stations wanting to offset their own
      emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly
      carbon dioxide (CO2).

      The reason is simple: methane is 23 times more
      potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in
      the atmosphere and it is relatively simple to
      capture the gas from animal waste, landfills,
      coal mines or leaky natural gas pipes.

      "A fifth of all greenhouse gas-induced global
      warming has been due to methane since
      pre-industrial times," said climate scientist
      Paul Fraser of Australia, where ruminant farm
      animals belch out vast amounts of the gas.

      Methane concentrations have increased about 150
      percent in the air since 1750 and now far exceed
      the natural range of the past 650,000 years, the
      U.N.'s climate panel says. And human activities
      are largely to blame.

      The panel will be focusing on ways to curb
      methane and other greenhouse gas emissions when
      it releases a major report on mitigating the
      effects of climate change in Bangkok in early May.

      "It's been argued that the reductions from
      methane are potentially cheaper than from carbon
      dioxide," said Bill Hare, climate policy director
      for Greenpeace and a lead author of the
      mitigation report.

      "A lot of policy discussion in the United States
      has focused on methane rather than more difficult
      problems such as CO2 from coal," he added.

      This is because capturing methane from landfills,
      mines, or from fossil fuel production or natural
      gas lines is pretty straight forward and makes
      economic sense. Methane is a major component of
      natural gas and can be burned to generate power.

      Agriculture was a greater challenge, Hare said.

      A MATTER OF BALANCE

      "There are more difficult areas for methane from
      livestock and from rice agriculture where, at
      best, longer time scales are required to change
      practices in agriculture than you might need in
      industrial areas," Hare said.

      Rice paddies and other irrigated crops produce
      large amounts of methane, as do natural wetlands.
      Vast amounts of methane are also locked up in
      deposits under the ice in sub-polar regions, in
      permafrost or under the sea.

      Hare said there are lots of options being looked
      at, such as additives for cattle and sheep to cut
      the amount of methane in their burps and moving
      away from intensive livestock feed lots to
      range-fed animals.

      "And for example in rice, just changing the
      timing and when and how you flood rice paddies
      has great potential to reduce methane emissions."

      For the moment, the amount of methane in the
      atmosphere is steady after leveling off around
      1999, said Fraser, leader of the Changing
      Atmosphere Research Group at Australia's
      government-funded Commonwealth Scientific and
      Industrial Research Organization.

      This is thought to be because the drying out of
      tropical wetlands seems to canceling out a rise
      in emissions from the oil and gas industry. But
      how long this lasts is anyone's guess.

      "Most people would agree that some time in the
      future methane is going to start growing again,
      just because of the world demand for natural gas,
      rice and cattle," Fraser said.

      POO POWER

      All the more reason why chicken manure and pig waste are hot commodities.

      Under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, a system called
      the Clean Development Mechanism allows rich
      countries to keep within their emissions limits
      by funding projects that soak up greenhouse gases
      in poor countries, getting carbon credits in
      return.

      This has made huge pig farms in South America and
      poultry farms in India attractive investments.

      The waste is put into digesters and the methane
      extracted and burned to generate electricity or
      simply flared to create CO2 -- not perfect, but a
      lesser greenhouse gas evil.

      And interest is growing in these kinds of
      projects, said N. Yuvaraj Dinesh Babu of the
      Singapore-based Carbon Exchange, which trades
      Kyoto carbon credits and helps broker emissions
      off-setting deals.

      The Kyoto system of emissions credits has proved
      popular and the U.N. Framework Convention on
      Climate Change, which administers it, says dozens
      of methane-abatement projects have been approved
      in recent years with more being considered.

      But Stephan Singer of conservation group WWF
      thinks this is not the complete solution. He
      believes more attention should be paid to
      controlling carbon dioxide emissions and the
      sources of methane not so easily controlled.

      Only about 50 percent of all methane emissions
      are being controlled, namely from landfills, coal
      mines and the oil and gas industry, said Singer,
      head of WWF's European Energy and Climate Policy
      Unit.

      "What worries me is the increased methane coming
      out of the stomachs of ruminants, mainly for
      increased beef consumption within an increasingly
      wealthy world. The diet of the West has a big
      impact on the atmosphere."

      In the United States, cattle emit about 5.5
      million tonnes of methane per year into the
      atmosphere, accounting for 20 percent of U.S.
      methane emissions, the Environmental Protection
      Agency says. In New Zealand, emissions from
      agriculture comprise about half of all greenhouse
      gas emissions.

      But what worries Singer most is a rapid release
      of methane stored in sub-polar permafrost or in
      huge methane hydrate deposits under the sea.
      While this has not happened, some scientists
      suggest it might occur in a warmer world.

      "If methane hydrates leak, then we're gone, then it's over."

      Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.