Brazilian ag policy could cut global GHG emissions

Brazil can reduce GHG emissions by intensifying cattle production without increasing deforestation.

Brazil may be able to curb up to 26% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from deforestation by encouraging the intensification of its cattle production, according to a new study from researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and international collaborators, including the University of California-Berkeley.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that by subsidizing semi-intensive pasture-based cattle production or taxing conventional pastures, Brazil may be able to deliver a substantial cut in global greenhouse gas emissions, even in the absence of a global agreement to prevent deforestation.

Brazil is the world's second largest producer of beef and the world's largest exporter of beef. Cattle pastures occupy one quarter of the land surface in Brazil, including as much as 80% of recently deforested land. Brazil has lost more forestland than any other country in the past 20 years, IIASA said in its announcement. Worldwide, deforestation contributes to as much as 20% of human-caused GHG emissions.

"Climate policies are an investment for governments. One of the major concerns that governments have about making climate policies unilaterally is that the benefits will be canceled out by increased emissions in other countries," said Tufts University researcher Avery Cohn, who led the study.

Previous studies of Brazilian agriculture have warned that policies to intensify cattle ranching could lower beef prices and increase beef consumption or raise beef prices and increase beef production. Either effect could drive more deforestation in other countries, canceling out any overall reduction in emissions, IIASA said.

"Our study shows that greenhouse gains from pasture intensification policies considerably exceed the losses. Brazil could act alone and still make a major dent in global greenhouse gas emissions," added IIASA researcher Aline Mosnier, a co-author on the study, which Cohn started as a participant in IIASA's Young Scientists Summer Program while completing his doctorate at the University of California-Berkeley.

The two policies — subsidizing more intensive cattle ranching or taxing conventional pastures — would both reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by about 50% between 2010 and 2030. This would lead to a 25% reduction in global GHG emissions from deforestation during that time. Combining the two policies could provide a revenue-neutral way for the Brazilian government to reduce GHG emissions.

The researchers expanded IIASA's Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM) to examine the effects of the two policies both within and beyond Brazil's borders. GLOBIOM is an economic model of global land use, which is being applied to questions of agriculture, deforestation and REDD policies around the world.

Previous work by IIASA researchers has shown that more efficient livestock production methods could be an effective method to reduce GHG emissions worldwide, while improving food security. The new study was carried out in collaboration with Tufts University, the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California-Berkeley, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization, IIASA's Australian National Member Organization, and University of Natural Resources & Applied Life Sciences in (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria.

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