Is the Copenhagen Cow Gas Accord Just a Cop Out?

Credit: Mike Licht,

So the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was a bust, huh? No international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, just a non-binding "Copenhagen Accord" between the United States, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Nopenhagen, they're calling it. But the United States Department of Agriculture was at least able to ink a deal with 20 other countries. It's called a Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. A cow-gas accord, if you will. "No single nation has all of the resources needed to tackle agricultural greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time enhancing food production and food security," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says.

"We will not only pool our talents and existing resources but draw new resources, and even new scientists, to better understand climate change in an agricultural context and in so doing tackle one of the most important international issues of our time."

Agricultural has some work to do. It produces 14 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions on Planet Earth, through emissions including potent methane from cow belches and flatulence. And global food demand is growing. So what are farmers to do?

Vilsack says research can lead the way. Previous studies have helped agriculture cut energy use in half in the last 50 years, according to USDA figures.

Vilsack calls the cow-gas accord (so named by this blogger) "a historical and meaningful step" in addressing climate change.

The 21-country pact says the USDA will spend an additional $90 million on mitigation research over the next four years. The USDA also will grant fellowships to Global Research Alliance members from developing countries, so scientists from multiple countries can work side-by-side.

The alliance aims to develop technologies and practices to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon storage in farmland.

Can it work? Is this a development that deserves more publicity? Or is more research just a cop-out in this case? According to a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "Agriculture is in position of immediately implementing mitigation strategy because the existing techniques -properly applied- can ensure large GHG emissions reduction."

The countries which have agreed to participate in the Global Research Alliance include Australia, Canada, Columbia, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Vietnam.

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