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Banner image: A herder cools off in a water trough as camels drink on at a community well in Dukana, Marsabit County on July 01, 2023 / Credit: Nicholas Komu, NMG.
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Unpacking the Global Methane Pledge's Impact on Pastoralist Communities

At least 70% of agricultural gas emissions in Africa come from the livestock sector, which will be heavily impacted by the new methane pact.

Since December 2, 2023, the ongoing COP28 has seen a slew of Green Fund and renewable energy announcements designed to decarbonize the energy sector. Among those statements made by the COP28 presidency is the latest commitment by EU members to the methane pledge pact.

At least 50 oil companies, which constitute nearly half the overall production cohort, pledged to attain the near-zero methane emissions and reduce the spikes by 2030.

COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber announced on Saturday about the major oil-producing companies such as Saudi Aramco, Brazil-based Petrobras and Angola-based Sonangol, Total Energies, Shell, and BP commitments to the methane emission pledges.

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which are some of the major emitters, joined the Global Methane Pledge, willing to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

One of the negotiators at COP28 who asked for anonymity explained that joining the methane emission pact could have serious ramifications for the African pastoralist communities whose chief mainstay is livestock production.

“Joining the methane emission pact by African nations will imply a complete paradigm shift from the current production of large herds by the pastoralist communities to a few healthy herds,” he observed.

The demand for meat in low-income nations is expected to increase to 107 million tonnes while that of milk will grow to 5.5 million tonnes by 2050.

At least 70% of agricultural green gas emissions in Africa comes from the livestock sector which is mainly enteric methane emissions.

The pact also entails the reduction of beef consumption, which might prove to be a hurdle for many pastoralist communities and Africans.

He explained that the livestock sector contributes to 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, driving further climate change. Now consider that the livestock sector in sub-Sahara Africa alone contributes to 3 percent of global warming.

On Saturday the European negotiators reached a deal to reduce methane emissions from the energy industry across the 27-member bloc. The agreement spelt strict rules for reporting stating that by 2027, the agreement will expand to oil and gas exporters outside the bloc too.

A good number of world leaders, philanthropists, and the private sector pledged to mobilize $1 billion to support countries to tackle the methane emission menace. The pledge was backed by Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Chile, and Barbados with China and India only signaling to support it.

Case study of Marsabit

In Marsabit County, the poorest are bearing the brunt of climate change – poverty, resource-based conflicts, hunger, gender inequality, and scarce resources.

Yeirat Loina, 65, is one of the faces of this struggle as he recalls losing his entire herd of livestock to the ongoing drought.

“When we owned large animal herds, we would freely cross the border into Ethiopia to use our livestock as a medium of exchange for whatever we wanted, such as foodstuff. Now that they all perished we hopelessly stare death in the face,” Loina said.

Two years ago, he was one of the richest pastoralists in the area and would engage with the neighboring Ethiopians in barter trade to get whatever merchandise he wanted.

A similar fate befell Janle Herogalie who lost over 200 livestock to drought and was reduced to being a beggar.

Both blame the livestock wipeout on the rise in Lake Turkana water levels that subsequently submerged all surrounding grazing land, and resulted in death of all cattle in Ileret ward. All they are left with is empty cattle, sheep, goat, and camel enclosures after the entire stocks were wiped out.

They perhaps might not be aware of the climate change impacts, but one thing they strongly suspect is that times have changed drastically. They embody the kind of frustration most pastoralists in Northern Kenya are grappling with.

Due to the escalation of climate change impacts pastoralists in the region have lost unprecedented huge numbers of livestock to droughts, flash floods, and rising lake water levels thus necessitating a monumental shift.

Smart husbandry and destocking

A recent report by KALRO established that cattle numbers were on the decline in Northern Kenya, and especially Marsabit County.

The 2015 livestock census indicated that Marsabit had 424,603 cattle, 1,143,480 goats, 960,004 sheep, 203,320 camels, 63,861 donkeys, and 50,690 chickens. The number of cattle has since drastically declined to about 250,000 following their deaths and sales in exchange for the hardier camels by herders.

The camel population currently stands at over 250,000 in Marsabit and their value is becoming increasingly acknowledged by pastoralist communities, policymakers, and researchers since climate variability has become a big challenge.

The 2021 to 2022 biting drought and famine saw more than 224,000 livestock (mostly cattle, sheep, and goats) succumb according to the KALRO survey of March 2022.

As the best bet option to reduce poverty and food insecurity in the arid areas where livestock is the mainstay of livelihoods, nutrition experts are calling for climate-smart practices in animal husbandry.

Diversity of the herds ensures risk distribution. For instance, smaller stock — goats and sheep — have high fecundity and hardiness to drought, making them suitable for post-drought reconstitution strategies.

Since cattle are only grazers depending entirely on grass, they are largely affected by the droughts. This situation left many pastoralists poor and, as a result, became dependent on relief food.

The Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) on its part has been on the forefront of calling on the livestock farmers in the eight member states to adopt sustainable livestock production to help mitigate global greenhouse emissions and to improve global food security.

IGAD proposed the use of adaptation and mitigation measures tailored to the location and livestock production system in use and policies that support and facilitate the implementation of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.

During an interview with the Nation, the IGAD climate change mitigation expert Philip Omondi said Africa is blamed globally for keeping several livestock that hugely contribute to global greenhouse emissions.

“In Africa, we do not have big industries like in Europe and other Western countries, however, we are blamed for keeping so many animals that produce methane gas, especially from their waste, and that, once animals are slaughtered, a lot of methane is released into space," Omondi said. He spoke at an IGAD Cluster II Climate Outlook Forum that brought together participants from different member states in Ethiopia.

He added that methane lingers longer in space as compared to carbon dioxide thus making unproductive livestock husbandry lethal with regards to greenhouse gas emissions.

He shared that the sub-Saharan Africa livestock sector alone was responsible for 3 percent of greenhouse emissions globally, which he warned should not be downplayed.

Omondi appealed for good animal husbandry by adopting sustainable and efficient livestock production systems. The expert recommended destocking and rearing only healthy but fewer livestock to be the way forward toward mitigating global warming within the member states.

His statements were reiterated by the IGAD Climate Change Mitigation Expert Abebe Tadege who explained that the livestock sector is responsible for global warming through methane gas emissions during digestion, enteric fermentation, and manure management.

He appealed for the use of technology in livestock husbandry through feed and manure management through aerobic digesters, which easily capture methane and convert it into clean energy as the surest bet on how to mitigate methane gas emissions.

He added that livestock destocking must be considered mandatory in the future to ensure global food security and climate change mitigation.

Moyale indigenous weather forecast expert Galmah Didah also added his voice to the call on the need for pastoralist communities in Northern Kenya to begin destocking to help mitigate climate change impacts.

“I also call upon our pastoralist communities to consider few but healthy livestock to keep in check the frequent drought variables that are attributed to large numbers of livestock rearing and have become part and parcel of the arid and semi-arid counties,” Didah said.

Resources on methane

The most important greenhouse gases in livestock husbandry are methane and nitrous oxide. Methane, mainly produced by enteric fermentation and manure storage, is a gas that influences global warming 28 times higher than carbon dioxide.

Nitrous oxide, arising from manure storage and the use of organic or inorganic fertilizers, is a molecule with a global warming potential 256 times higher than carbon dioxide. A carbon dioxide equivalent is a standard unit used to account for the global warming potential.

Global warming for livestock products is expected to double by 2050, mainly due to improvements in the worldwide standard of living.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a single cow produces between 154 to 264 pounds of methane gas per year. There are about 1.5 billion cattle, raised specifically for meat production worldwide, emitting at least 231 billion pounds of methane into the atmosphere each year.

Methane can also be released at several points along the operation of an oil and gas company, from fracking to when natural gas is produced, transported, or stored.

The story was produced as part of the COP28 Climate Change Media Partnership Reporting Fellowship co-organized by the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. It was first published in Nation Media Group on 6 December 2023. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: A herder cools off in a water trough as camels drink on at a community well in Dukana, Marsabit County on July 01, 2023 / Credit: Nicholas Komu, NMG.