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Food for Thought UNFCCC 2009, Sheep, Giraffes, Yaks and Nilgai

by Felix Dodds Executive Director Stakeholder Forum
16th December 2009 at UNFCCC in Outreach

So the other day I was reading the BBC Environment Web site which I do love. There was this wonderful story about how Australian scientists are hoping to breed sheep that burp less as part of efforts o tackle climate change.

According to the Australian scientists burping causes greater emissions in sheep than flatulence. I was shocked to see that 66% of the agricultural emissions in Australia are released as methane from the gut of livestock.

There is an abundance of sheep in Australia as opposed to horses, goats, deer’s giraffes, bison, yaks, water buffalo, camels, alpacas, llamas, wildebeest, antelope, pronghorn, and nilgai

The reason i am sure you all know why these animals are significant is because they have ruminant stomach which means they consists of three fore-stomachs – thus contributing methane to the atmosphere.

I have to confess I had no idea what a Nilgai was so using the trusted Wikipedia I found out. It seems that they are a type of antelope. They are found most commonly in central and northern India and eastern Pakistan and also present in parts of southern Nepal and Alabama and Texas! Some escaped from private exotic ranches; it seems that Texas boasts a population of something like 15,000. Could this be the a script in waiting for Madagascar 4: Fighting Climate Change!  - my  pitch would be for Matthew  Mcconaughey as Nigel the Texan Nilgai.

We have seen world population increase from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.8 billion last year while at the same time the world's cattle herd went from 720 million to over 1.6 billion. The number of sheep and goats expanded from 1.04 billion to approaching 2 billion.

It is estimated that 64% of world total sheep live in  only fifteen countries, China having the most followed by Australia, India, Iran Sudan, New Zealand UK, South Africa, Turkey, Spain, Pakistan, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco and Brazil. A number of these are significant or will be significant green house gas contributors.

So where does all this fit in the agriculture negotiations – on mitigation? This is a question that may become more and more relevant as countries start becoming serious on targets here in Copenhagen and beyond. Already in another field, water provision, there are discussions on water for food, water for biodiversity, water for industry, water for people, how do you split up the limited resource?

The future of domestic approaches to green house gasses will be messy as countries look for ways to reduce the GHGs without having too much impact on people’s present lifestyles. Something we should remember a former US President Bush  said in Rio in 1992 – ‘ The US way of life was non negotiable.’  If the way we live our present lifestyles isnt negotiable. We can only hope that the Australian scientist can find ways to reduce the methane content in sheep and other  ruminant species. Otherwise we may well see a tradeoffs such as - you can use your car more if there are less sheep, goats and Nigel’s in the world? 





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