Category Archives: GHG Emission Reduction

Climate-Smart Eating: Saving the Planet, One Person at a Time

I wrote this article for Huffington Post, and it appeared February 10, 2015. Below, I present a few key paragraphs, and a link to the full article. — Tim Thomas

I think the Chick-fil-A cow is onto something. You know, the cow that holds up the sign, “Eat mor chikin.” I think that cow is thinking about ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and realizes that an easy way to cut emissions from beef consumption by a minimum of 94 percent (and maybe as high as 99 percent) is to switch to eating chicken.

The Chick-fil-A cow could become the first spokes-animal for what could become an extremely important movement that might be dubbed “climate-smart eating,” a sort of mash-up of climate-smart agriculture (launched in 2014 at the UN Climate Summit in New York) and the reduced carbon footprint movement.

Climate-smart eating recognizes that the GHG emissions of what we choose to eat can vary widely, and since GHG emissions associated with the food we eat is estimated at between 44 and 57 percent of total planetary emissions (according to the non-governmental organization, GRAIN, and published by The Wall Street Journal and by the UN), people’s choices concerning the food they eat has the potential to make a huge difference in how much GHGs are emitted. Good choices will serve to slow the rate of climate change, and will ultimately reduce the extent of the damage associated with that change.

While climate-smart agriculture (CSA) tries to get farmers to change how they grow things, climate-smart eating (CSE) seeks to change WHAT they grow, by changing the structure of demand for their products. CSE together with CSA could be the one-two punch on climate mitigation–the process of reducing GHG emissions. The idea of climate-smart eating is starting to catch on, evidenced by its inclusion in the latest report from a United Nations panel, though under a less catchy name, “demand-side options” for mitigation.

Not all of us are farmers, but all of us are eaters. CSA mobilizes farmers; CSE mobilizes the world — and that is critical if goals for GHG reductions are to be met. Climate-smart eating, as a movement, encourages each person to voluntarily help save the planet by reducing the GHG content of the food he or she chooses to eat. Not only could we choose to “eat mor chikin,” but we could reduce some of our meat consumption, since grains, fruits, and vegetables almost always take less GHG emissions to produce. We could consider the emissions from transporting the food to our grocery stores, and buy more locally when possible. And we could do our part to reduce waste by not buying more than needed and saving and eating leftovers. Food discarded is like multiplying the GHG emissions taken to produce food that is actually consumed. And, as mentioned, we could care more about HOW our food was produced — did it use climate-smart agricultural techniques?

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We Still are the World

This past week was the thirtieth anniversary of the recording of “We are the World”, a song which skyrocketed to number one on the pop charts in the U.S., written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. It was performed by over 30 of some of the most popular singers from the eighties. Together with an awareness of the impact of that horrible famine, it changed the direction of my life.

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In the first verse we hear the call: “There are people dying… and it’s time to lend a hand.” Then the chorus affirms our ability to make a difference, reminding us that “We are the world, we are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day so let’s start giving. There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives. It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.”

At the time the song came out, I was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. But that year I decided to leave the Marines as soon as I could and join with a group called Food for the Hungry, and do what I could to help prevent more famines from occurring. When I finally was able to join Food for the Hungry in 1987, they assigned me to work out of their Kenya office, and I spent four years there, mostly doing agriculture and water development. By the time I left Kenya at the end of 1991, I has also gotten involved in refugee work, as those were turbulent years in neighboring countries, and hundreds of refugees came to Kenya across both the Ethiopian and Somali borders.

I am no longer involved in the frontline work of NGOs and others working in the villages of developing countries, but that call of thirty years ago still flows through my veins. After leaving Kenya, I realized my skillset was better suited to help in a different way, so I went off to grad school and studied agricultural economics so that I could use that toolset to better understand how to help governments, international agencies, and donors make better policies to help prevent hunger and to empower the poorest of the poor. Today I work as a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C., studying ways to help farmers in developing countries adapt to climate change, as well as investigating ways to reduce the extent of climate change.

Climate change is an issue that brings me back to my original motivation, hating to see people die from hunger, and wanting to do something to help. Climatologists tells us that climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of droughts in the years ahead, potentially causing serious and long-lasting droughts worse than the one that triggered the famine in the 1980s in Ethiopia. But we also know that if we are able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we decrease the chances of experiencing the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Perhaps it is time that the people of the world rise up and sing this song all over again, with a conviction about our desire to end poverty, hunger, and malnutrition — but also with an awareness that choices today can have far-reaching consequences. If we as individuals do what we can to reduce emissions — and that involves becoming advocates to those in our spheres of influence, including our governments — we can make a difference. “It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me!”

Workshop Held for Reducing GHG Emissions from AFOLU in Bangladesh

The Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), held a final workshop on Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS) for the agriculture, forestry, and land use change (AFOLU) sectors at the BRAC Inn Centre in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on September 25 and 26. The workshop brought together more than 60 experts in their fields to discuss ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions without seriously hurting agricultural production.


Attendees of LEDS AFOLU workshop in Dhaka.

One of the features of the event was putting together 4 working groups that covered soils and crops; livestock and fisheries; forestry; and biofuels and cookstoves. Each expert chose the working group that best suited their area of expertise. Each of these working groups developed concrete policies in their particular focus topic that could be implemented to deliver “smart mitigation” — reduction of GHG emissions per unit of output without hurting overall production.

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Good Reasons for Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS) Research

Alex De PintoThis is a guest post from Alex De Pinto, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI

It is now widely recognized that natural resource use in many developing countries, from crop production to deforestation, is responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions. We also know that, in many countries, it is the agricultural and forestry sectors — not industry or transport — that provide low-cost mitigation opportunities. As countries experience economic growth and choose among the available development pathways, they are in a favorable position to adopt natural resource use technologies and production practices characterized by low GHG emissions. Rather than embedding high emissions practices in their development and intervene on emissions reduction at a later stage, they can utilize Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS).

Smokestacks polluting the atmosphereFrom a technical point of view, reducing expected increases in GHG emissions requires the adoption of transformative approaches that improve the efficiency of resource uses. Potential methods include more efficient uses of fertilizers, water, and fossil fuels, as well as waste reduction and shifts to foods that yield lower emissions. However, the implementation of LEDS also requires that decision-makers are able to compare the emission characteristics of alternative development pathways in relation to other objectives such as export goals or food security. Opportunities that exist in countries with substantial stands of tropical rainforests differ from those in countries with little forest and widespread irrigated agriculture, and from those in countries with semi-arid landscapes with pastoral and agroforestry systems.

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Workshop on Reducing GHG Emissions in Bangladesh from Agriculture, Forestry, and Land Use Change

I was part of a workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 6, during which preliminary results were presented regarding the work of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) under a USAID-funded research project on Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS) in the agriculture, forestry, and land use change (AFOLU) sectors. The workshop brought together senior people from several ministries, national agricultural research institutes, and universities.

Photo of workshop organizers
(From left) Tim Thomas (IFPRI), Khandaker Mainuddin (BCAS), Atiq Rahman (BCAS), Alex De Pinto (IFPRI)

GHG emissions in 2005 for BangladeshAs the bar graph on the right shows (which is from data in the Second National Communications to the UNFCCC), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture and land use change make up a significant part of total emissions in Bangladesh. Furthermore, the CO2 emissions from biomass burning, which does not count in the official figures, presents some opportunities for additional savings.

Some possible areas of reduction are in the following list, which is only meant to suggest possible areas to evaluate for their cost-effectiveness, not that they have been tested and recommended. All are looking for win-win scenarios, in which profitability or productivity can rise while reducing GHG emissions. One of the aims of the project is to evaluate the price of the trade-off in the cases that are not win-win.

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Using Shadow Price to Proxy Influencing Farmers to Achieve Land Use Goals in Vietnam

We have been using nested logits and multinomial logits (MNL) to model land use and land use change for modeling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agriculture, forestry, and land use (AFOLU) sector. The Vietnamese government makes 10-year plans for agriculture, making targets for land dedicated to various crops and other uses. While the targets are included in the plan, the policy instruments used to meet those targets are less clear. Farmers may be pressured to change their own plans to achieve those goals, but the methods used are not very certain.

The underlying household model on which the MNL land use models are based is a random utility model (RUM). A RUM computes utility for various land uses or crop choices. Because these utilities are known with uncertainty (stochastically), the probability of a given piece of land to be put to a given use is computed by comparing the utility of that use to the utility of each of the other choices.

The easiest utility to think about is profit per hectare from cultivating different crops. To effect a reduction in area devoted to one crop, a market-solution would be to raise the cost of cultivating that crop (or equivalently, reduce the profitability of the crop, perhaps by reducing the price). Non-market methods of influencing that decision are difficult or impossible to model directly, but within a model, they might be thought of as a shadow price that could be estimated. If the shadow price is a per unit cost, it can be modeled as a constant. If the shadow price is a per unit of output cost, we can model it as a multiplier on output price.