OBWOGO: Join the Conversation— The Earth Is Getting Warmer. Are We Prepared To Fight Climate Change?

Dr Subiri Obwogo • 19 June 2019
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A few days ago, we celebrated the World Day to Combat Desertification just as a survey in the UK-based journal Nature Communications warned that Africa will in future experience more extremes weather— dry spells punctuated with flooding— as a result of climatic change resulting from global warming caused largely by burning fossil fuels.

To promote use of clean energy, the government proposed in this year’s budget to reduce excise duty on motor vehicles fully powered by electricity to 10 percent. It will also scrap import duty on raw timber and VAT on plastic recycling plants, among other measures. 

I wrote in a recent blog that if the government wants to make a dent on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and global warming, it must look elsewhere (see graph above). It’s important to think about what we eat (eggs, meat and dairy), where we sleep and how we travel. 

You see, transportation is responsible for only 14 percent of global GHG emissions and although investing in low-emission cars is a good idea, these account for only a half of the transportation-related emissions; airplanes, cargo ships and trucks make up the other.  In fact, agriculture (24 percent) and electricity (25 percent) are responsible for half of all emissions. Manufacturing and buildings account for 21, and 6 percent respectively.

In particular, agricultural activities such as deforestation, land use practices and keeping animals are a major source of GHG emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

The fact is agriculture is both a source (contributor) and sink (net withdrawal) for GHG.  Most agricultural emissions originate from four sources: soil management, enteric fermentation, energy use, and manure management.  Enteric fermentation is a natural process of ruminant digestion where microbes in the rumen— the first part of four-compartment animal stomachs such as cattle— break down feed producing methane.

In animal production, most emissions— in form of methane— are from cattle (beef followed by dairy). It’s estimated that if cattle were a country, they’d be the third-largest emitter of GHG (5 Gigatons per year) after China and USA that emit 10.2 and 5.3 Gigatons of CO2 annually respectively (see graph below). While most of the methane from poultry and swine production originates from manure (storage and application), enteric fermentation is the main source of methane in dairy and beef production.

GHG2

The number and size (weight) of cattle matters. For example, compared to Ireland with 1.4 million cows producing 6.4 billion litres of milk annually, Kenya’s 4.2 million cows produce a mere 5.2 billion litres.

On its own, deforestation is responsible for 11 percent of all global GHG emissions. Another thing is that because forests and grasslands act as carbon sinks, clearing them reduces the planet’s capacity to remove carbon dioxide from the air.

Unfortunately, an estimated 222,000 acres of Mau Forest complex, the largest closed-canopy in Kenya, which also doubles as the largest indigenous montane forest in East Africa and water tower in Rift Valley and Western region, have been destroyed. The excisions and unplanned settlements were approved by the government in 2001.

Which brings me to this question: Are we prepared to mitigate and adapt to effects of climatic change and do we need to do more. How do we increase food production while reducing GHG emissions?