• Satellites have detected methane emissions released from belching cows, pinpointing the source from a feedlot in California.
  • The ability to accurately measure agricultural methane emissions is a significant step towards setting reduction targets for the beef-production industry.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 36% of US methane emissions comes from livestock.
  • Adding seaweed to cattle diets is one method being trialled to reduce methane emissions.

Satellites have detected methane emissions from belching cows at a California feedlot, marking the first time emissions from livestock - a major component of agricultural methane - could be measured from space.

Environmental data firm GHGSat this month analyzed data from its satellites and pinpointed the methane source from a feedlot in the agricultural Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, California in February.

This is significant, according to GHGSat, because agricultural methane emissions are hard to measure and accurate measurement is needed to set enforceable reduction targets for the beef-production industry.

GHGSat said the amount of methane it detected from that single feedlot would result in 5,116 tonnes of methane emissions if sustained for a year. If that methane were captured, it could power over 15,000 homes, it said.

Agricultural methane emissions

Agriculture contributes 9.6% to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and about 36% of methane emissions, mostly from livestock.

About 36% of US methane emissions comes from livestock.
About 36% of US methane emissions comes from livestock.
Image: REUTERS/Jeff Green
Agricultural methane emissions are hard to measure.
Agricultural methane emissions are hard to measure.
Image: REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson

The Biden administration late last year announced its plan to crack down on methane emissions from the U.S. economy.

The EPA unveiled its first rules aimed at reducing methane from existing oil and gas sources that require companies to detect and repair methane leaks. The Agriculture Department rolled out a voluntary incentive program for farmers.

At last year's climate talks, more than 100 countries pledged to cut methane emissions by 30% and to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030. Much of this reduction would need to come from the livestock industry, according to the U.N. food agency, which said that livestock accounts for 44% of man-made methane emissions.

Several methods to reduce livestock methane emissions are being tested, including adding seaweed to cattle diets.

GHGSat provides its data to the United Nations' International Methane Emissions Observatory program.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici Editing by Bill Berkrot

Environment

How is the World Economic Forum fighting the climate crisis?

Our planet is straining under the burden of a global population of nearly 8 billion people.

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for Nature and Climate accelerates actions on climate change and environmental sustainability, food systems, the circular economy and value chains, and the future of international development.

  • Through the Global Plastic Action Partnership, we are bringing together government, business and civil society to shape a more sustainable world through the eradication of plastic pollution.
  • The centre is championing Nature-Based Solutions. Global companies are working together through the 1t.org initiative to support 1 trillion trees by 2030. Since September 2021, over 30 companies have committed to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.6 billion trees in over 60 countries.
  • Through a partnership with the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and over 30 global businesses, the Forum is encouraging companies to join the First Movers Coalition and invest in innovative green technologies so they are available for massive scale-up by 2030 to enable net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
  • The centre is also bringing leaders together to make commitments to a circular economy approach. Globally, the Scale360° initiative will reduce the environmental impact of value chains within the fashion, food, plastics and electronics industries – a significant step in making the $4.5 trillion circular economy opportunity a reality. The African Circular Economy Alliance is funding circular economy entrepreneurs and circular economy activities in countries including Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. In China, the Forum's Circular Electronics in China project is helping companies reduce and recycle 50% of e-waste by 2025.
  • The Forum is also crowdsourcing solutions to the climate crisis through its open innovation platform, UpLink. Since 2020 this digital space has welcomed over 40,000 users who are working on over 30 challenges including reducing plastic ocean pollution, scaling efforts to conserve, restore and grow 1 trillion trees and innovating the production and processing of aquatic foods.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.