Key insights on livestock related GHG emissions in sub-Saharan Africa unveiled at UNGA78 Science Summit

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On 14 September 2023, at the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA78), Claudia Arndt, senior scientist and team leader of the Mazingira Centre, delivered a presentation on the current state of research regarding livestock and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation, part of the larger Science Summit, shed light on crucial findings from the Mazingira Centre within the CGIAR Research Initiative on Livestock and Climate, CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems (Mitigate+), among others. 

The Science Summit, organized by the International Science Council (ISC) and its partners, aimed to underscore the role of science in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The event brought together experts to discuss and collaborate on global science mechanisms supporting the UN SDGs, with an eye towards the future in preparation for UNGA79 in 2024. 

As part of the virtual session on ‘Climate-smart Approaches to enhance Ruminant/Livestock production efficiency and Food production systems”, Arndt began by outlining the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) commitments for adaptation and mitigation by African nations. Further, she elaborated on what countries have Tier 2 inventories in place to capture mitigation commitments and that there is a lack of capacity to meet current commitments. Further, she noted that, only six locations on the entire continent possess enteric methane measurement equipment, emphasizing the limited scope of GHG emissions research in the livestock sector 

Arndt painted a nuanced global picture, suggesting that while mitigations for methane from animal emissions is technically possible to meet the 1.5 degrees target by 2030 is achievable, it is not realistic because it would need a 100% of farmers to adopt effective mitigation strategies. In addition, meeting the 2050 target of net zero is not possible with current mitigation strategies even if effective mitigation strategies are adopted. High-income countries could potentially achieve both targets, but low- and middle-income countries face substantial challenges in reaching these milestones. These challenges are due to expected demand from population and economic growth.  

The presentation also touched upon climate-smart agricultural practices, emphasizing their role in increasing productivity, enhancing adaptation and resilience to climate change, and reducing GHG emissions. Notably, the practices demonstrated a decrease in emissions intensity across all scenarios in cattle, particularly with the implementation of best practices (fertility rate, sweet potato vine silage, improved feeding levels) and feed (sweet potato vine silage, dairy concentrate, and improved feeding levels). However, absolute emissions increased in all scenarios except for age at first calving and dairy concentrate. 

The implementation of climate-smart agricultural practices in extensive dairy systems showcased a positive correlation between on-farm milk yield and decreased on-farm emissions intensities. Arndt presented marginal abatement cost curves, revealing that the costs associated with implementing these practices were negligible when considering other milk production expenses.  

An essential takeaway from Arndt’s presentation was the insufficient capacity for monitoring mitigation strategies, falling short of NDC goals. She stressed the urgent need for collecting more local data on emissions and mitigation strategies, highlighting that existing strategies might not be adequate to meet climate goals. Arndt’s presentation was a pivotal contribution to the event, shedding light on the challenges and opportunities in addressing livestock-related GHG emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her insights underscored the need for continued research, localized data collection, and collaborative efforts to develop effective mitigation strategies in the face of a changing climate. 

Header Image:Staff member of Mazingira Centre experimenting with a biodigester breaking down manure to produce biogas and nutrient-rich fertiliser. Photo by D. Mulat/ILRI.

See the presentation: Current State of Research on Livestock GHG Emissions and Mitigation in Sub-Saharan Africa (presentation, 2023). 

Story by Madison Spinelli

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