From Burps to Sustainability: Canada’s Ambitious Plan to Tackle Methane from Cattle

"Canadian Government Launches REME Initiative to Tackle Methane Emissions from Cows, Offers Incentives to Beef Cattle Farmers"

The Canadian government is taking significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those caused by cows’ burps, which are a major source of methane. The Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) has proposed incentives for beef cattle farmers to lower methane emissions by improving diets and management practices. The proposal, known as Reducing Enteric Methane Emissions from Beef Cattle (REME), introduces offset credits for every tonne of reduced emissions. Farmers can then sell these credits to industries aiming to reduce their carbon footprint. This initiative encourages changes in cattle diets, improvements in feed efficiency, and strategies to minimize methane release.

The REME proposal aims to reward farmers who use feed additives to reduce cow-produced methane. It also recognizes the farmers’ previous contributions in lowering methane emissions per unit of milk through improved livestock genetics. The proposed eligible activities include altering cattle diets, adding specific ingredients to boost animal performance, and employing growth promoters. Experts such as Tim McAllister from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada suggest that modifying cattle diets, such as adding grain and oil, could help reduce methane emissions while improving feed efficiency for meat production. ECCC Minister Steven Guilbeault highlighted that farmers have been champions of climate action through sustainable agricultural practices. He further emphasized that the draft protocol is an opportunity for farmers to implement practical solutions to reduce agricultural methane emissions, generate revenue, and create a greener future for all.

In 2021, agriculture accounted for 31% of Canada’s total methane emissions, primarily due to enteric fermentation in beef and dairy cattle. Enteric fermentation is a digestive process that generates methane, which is released when cows burp as part of their natural digestion. According to the American Society for Microbiology, enteric fermentation was responsible for 27% of global methane emissions in 2020.

Research shows that, on average, two cows produce 504 pounds of methane per year. To put that into context, one car emits around 11,500 pounds of carbon dioxide. Methane is 28 times more potent than CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere. This means that two cows release as much greenhouse gas as a car driven 10,000 miles each year. In Canada, methane from enteric fermentation accounts for about 45% of total agricultural emissions and approximately 13% of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. Cattle are the primary source of methane emissions from enteric fermentation in Canada.

The Canadian government is also targeting the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions, another greenhouse gas originating from manure or animal feed. The REME proposal includes incentives for farmers to adjust cattle diets, manage feed consumption, and reduce emissions. These measures will be further refined based on feedback from stakeholders before a final version is released in the coming summer. Agricultural practices will be adjusted to balance nutrient needs while minimizing the cost of implementing changes. Additionally, Canada is aiming for a 75% reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, according to a newly released draft plan by the ECCC. These regulations aim to reduce emissions by 217 megatonnes (CO2 equivalent) from 2027-2040, resulting in social and economic benefits totaling $12.4 billion from avoided global damages.

The REME protocol was developed by the Government of Canada in collaboration with agricultural experts. Its goal is to provide practical ways for farmers to earn revenue through emissions reductions. REME is the ECCC’s draft fourth protocol under Canada’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Offset Credit System, which encourages project developers to create innovative projects that reduce GHGs compared to business-as-usual practices. Proponents of offset projects can produce carbon credits if their projects meet the requirements of the Canadian GHG Offset Credit System Regulations and an applicable federal offset protocol. The REME protocol incorporates input from technical experts and incorporates best practices from provinces like Alberta. It is part of Canada’s comprehensive efforts to decarbonize the agricultural sector. For example, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has announced a $12 million investment in the Agricultural Methane Reduction Challenge to support innovators in developing cost-effective and scalable solutions to reduce enteric methane emissions from cattle.

Canada is committed to addressing methane emissions from beef cattle and moving towards a greener agricultural future. The REME initiative reflects the government’s commitment to incentivize emissions reductions and empower farmers to mitigate climate change. Through these innovations, the country aims to provide sustainable solutions while aligning with global climate goals.

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons

Matt Lyons is the founder of Forestry & Carbon. Matt has over 25 years as a forestry consultant and is invoilved in numerous carbon credit offset projects.

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