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Agriculture: mitigation to achieve carbon neutrality

Cmcc study demonstrates how to eliminate emissions from livestock farms

The agricultural, forestry and livestock sectors can contribute to the global mitigation and development objectives of a territory if sustainable land use activities are implemented. A study directed by the Cmcc foundation (Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change), highlights how mitigation options based on the agricultural sector, especially on a small scale, can lead to the elimination of emissions from livestock farms, providing a wide range additional ecological, environmental and socio-economic benefits at the local level. Although livestock emissions have decreased since the 1990s, with a 20% reduction in Europe in 2018, they still represent more than 60% of total emissions from the agricultural sector at European level.

"The agricultural sector", explains Maria Vincenza Chiriacò, Cmcc researcher and first author of the study, "has the unique characteristic of being both part of the problem and of the solution: on the one hand it generates greenhouse gas emissions, on the other it can reabsorb them, especially with appropriate sustainable management, thanks to the activity of photosynthesis and the biodiversity of the soils, representing an important carbon sink. All the other sectors (energy, construction, transport) can undertake to reduce their emissions and make them progressively tend to zero, but they have no possibility of removing that excess of Co2 already present from the atmosphere. Our approach is divided into two successive phases: first we make an estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions deriving from the activities of livestock farms, or we calculate their carbon footprint, then we evaluate the potential of some activities in the agricultural and forestry sector for mitigation of emissions estimated in the previous step".

The results of the study have highlighted how the mitigation options considered, based on the most sustainable agricultural practices, can not only compensate, but even lead the livestock sector to zero emissions, that is, to reach carbon neutrality. The researchers focused on a first pilot case study in central Italy, in an area of the province of Viterbo with a strong agricultural vocation. They have developed and fine-tuned a land-based approach given by the combination of different methodologies, such as GIS processing, measurements of the emissions of livestock farms through the Lca method (life cycle assessment) and other IPCC methodologies, to arrive at a precise estimate. greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector and the mitigation potential of various agricultural and forest management options on a local scale.

The land-based approach developed by the Cmcc and Ismea researchers, with the financial support of the “Rete Rurale Rurale Nazionale 2014–2020” program, has recently become a web tool. It is completely free and accessible online. The platform allows Italian livestock farmers to make an estimate of the carbon footprint of their livestock farm by filling out a short questionnaire, and then move on to a second phase where a whole series of actions are hypothesized, each with its own protocol, to reduce and offset the emissions of the farm.

Cmcc researchers are working with Ismea to create a land use sustainability traceability system, based on the developed approach, through a voluntary incentive mechanism for sustainable agricultural and forestry practices to reduce and compensate for livestock emissions at local level. The mechanism will use credits, which the researchers have dubbed “sustainability credits”, for the multiple benefits, not only climatic, that they will bring to local communities and agricultural districts.

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