Study: CA Dairy Sector on Track to Reach “Climate Neutrality” by 2030

A study released in December 2022 by the University of California, Davis CLEAR Center and the California Dairy Research Foundation declares that the state’s dairy sector is well positioned and on track to meet the aggressive dairy methane emission target of 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030, as required under California Senate Bill (SB) 1383. In doing so, California dairy farms will reach “climate neutrality,” the point in which no additional warming is added to the atmosphere, by 2030.

The paper, entitled “Meeting the Call: How California is Pioneering a Pathway to Significant Dairy Sector Methane Reduction” was written by a group of UC Davis professors who are experts in livestock emissions, air quality management and agricultural economics. They concluded “[o]ur analysis shows that continued implementation and commitment to the incentive-based climate-smart solutions that are currently driving voluntary dairy methane reduction in California should, by 2030, achieve the full 40 percent reduction in dairy methane sought by state regulators without the need for direct regulation.”   

It continues with “the methane reductions from programs and projects in place today, coupled with the implementation of a moderate feed additive strategy to reduce enteric emissions, is on track to reduce methane between 7.6 to 10.6 MMTCO2e by 2030, from the dairy sector alone,” but warns that “…misguided efforts to change course by forced conversion to pasture-based operations, direct regulation of dairy farms, or limitations on dairy digester incentives will not only fail to achieve the desired greenhouse gas emission reductions but will exacerbate the problem by causing significant emissions ‘leakage.’”

Methane is a short-lived climate pollutant (SLCP).  Although they have a relatively shorter atmospheric lifespan, SLCPs have higher global warming potential compared to other greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide), making them powerful climate forcers.  The Global Methane Pledge announced at the COP 26 (2021) reminds us of the urgency and importance of mitigating SLCP like methane — “[r]apidly reducing methane emissions from energy, agriculture, and waste can achieve near-term gains in our efforts in this decade for decisive action and is regarded as the single most effective strategy to keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5˚C within reach while yielding co-benefits including improving public health and agricultural productivity.”

SB 1383 established SLCP reduction targets and requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement a Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy to achieve these goals. Through the passage of this legislation in 2016, California set a world-leading target for reducing methane emissions from the dairy and livestock sector, which produces more than half of the State’s methane emissions.

As reported in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) blog, the study outlines the need for continued implementation of California’s four-part strategy for dairy methane reduction: farm efficiency and herd attrition, methane avoidance (alternative manure management), methane capture and utilization (digesters), and enteric methane reduction. Continued alignment of state and federal climate-smart agricultural approaches and incentives will also be critical to maintaining progress.

Read the full 46-page report and the UCANR blog for more information.