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Rising emissions and climate impacts discredit nature-based net-zero schemes

Stringent methane restrictions in the near term are vital to curbing global warming, states the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released today. Finalized by 234 scientists and approved by 195 governments, the Working Group 1 (WG1) report is the biggest update of the state of knowledge on climate change. It concludes the planet is likely to warm by 1.5°C in the next 20 years without drastic emissions cuts. Moreover, rising temperatures are limiting the natural world’s ability to absorb emissions, calling into question net-zero reduction schemes that rely on nature to solve the climate crisis.

Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide, both more potent greenhouse gases than CO2, were higher in 2019 than at any time in the last 800,000 years. As CO2 emission levels continue to rise, the ocean and land carbon sinks are projected to be less effective at slowing the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in methane emissions would not only limit temperature rise, but also improve air quality, according to the report.

“The science is pointing away from policies like carbon markets, which rely on offsetting pollution through carbon credits, and toward the need to directly reduce pollution at source,” said Director of IATP Europe, Shefali Sharma. “Climate change itself, through temperature rise and extreme weather events, will make credible offsets nearly impossible. Such carbon market schemes have been shown to delay climate action, rather than more directly targeting emissions reductions from polluters.”

The report also confirms that transforming food systems is a critical climate action. A serious contributor to rising methane is industrialized animal agriculture, driven by expanding global meat and dairy companies. Industrialized animal agriculture is accountable for one-third of agricultural methane emissions, as reported in the United Nations Environment Programme and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition Global Methane Assessment.

“It is a damning assessment on industrial agriculture. Nitrous oxide emissions, largely from the use of synthetic fertilizers, are expected to trend upwards, without decreasing until well into the second half of the century. It doesn’t have to be this way. COVID-19 has shown us that governments can dramatically shift policy and economies. Thus, they can also enable biodiverse, climate-friendly agroecological systems of farming,” says IATP Executive Director Sophia Murphy.

“The IPCC findings should make clear to governments gathering at COP 26 in Glasgow that Big meat and dairy must be held accountable for their methane emissions this decade. We do not have time to waste on Big Ag’s false solutions like carbon markets for biogas digestors. Scientists confirm that our lands and oceans are no longer endless sinks. These reservoirs are destabilized by climate change itself. Governments must implement a plan to transition out of mass food animal production towards regenerative agroecological food and farming systems,” says Sharma.

This fall, governments will meet to ratchet up their climate goals as part of the Paris Agreement. The continued focus on nature-based solutions to reach net-zero goals threatens to derail real climate action that reduces emissions directly. IATP’s research has documented the emissions of global meat and dairy corporations, forming the basis for our call to hold corporations responsible for emissions and redirect public resources toward more climate-resilient agroecological systems of production.

Download a PDF of the press release