By Amanda Leland, Executive Director

Cutting methane pollution is one of the fastest and most effective ways to slow climate change in the near term. That’s because it’s a particularly potent greenhouse gas — with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time span.

Given this impact, companies in the dairy supply chain, a major source of global methane emissions, have a big opportunity — and responsibility — to partner with farmers to reduce methane emissions from dairy production.

Dairy farmers have a record of boosting global nutrition while using fewer resources per gallon of milk, and with companies’ support, they can do even more. Many food and agriculture companies deserve credit for taking great strides on climate, such as setting science-based targets or working with their farmers and suppliers to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. But more action on methane is needed now.

Acting now is good for business, because investors, policymakers and consumers are increasingly looking for corporate action on agricultural methane emissions. Methane comprises the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in the dairy supply chain, so reducing methane is indispensable for companies with net zero climate goals.

As the spotlight on methane grows, companies that act now also have an opportunity to shape the methane narrative. For those companies already tackling methane, there’s an opportunity to gain wider public recognition for their industry leadership as well as to collaborate to accelerate global progress on methane.

Fortunately, solutions exist for businesses that will also empower farmers to provide improved nutrition for communities and financially support their families.

Lots of cow burps add up to one big problem — and a big opportunity

Cows on a pasture beneath a blue sky.

Where do methane emissions in the dairy supply chain come from? Livestock are one major source, as cows emit methane through their digestion. In plain English: Methane comes from cow burps and cow manure.

All those burps and poop add up to a big problem — and a tremendous opportunity for swift climate impact. Because livestock produce so much methane, dairy companies and dairy farmers can have a huge impact on global warming by reducing methane emissions.

While climate scenarios are often measured by centuries, action on methane will be felt over the next several decades. With global action from the dairy industry today, we’ll feel the difference in our lifetimes.

Protecting the planet and farmers’ livelihoods

Farmers and dairy companies provide nutrition for billions of people, so we’ll need solutions that allow producers to reduce their methane emissions while continuing to help feed the world and support rural livelihoods — challenges that will become increasingly difficult as climate impacts worsen. The world can’t afford to focus on hunger and climate crises in isolation. We need solutions that solve for multiple challenges.

As an example of multi-benefit solutions in action, EDF has partnered with the National Dairy Development Board in India to expand manure biogas systems and feed and herd management practices to help smallholder farmers optimize production, improve food security, increase incomes, secure livelihoods and support the climate.

In the U.S. and Europe, we’re also working closely with companies, farmers and ranchers to trial innovative solutions, such as methane-reducing feed additives and manure management practices. We’ve also partnered with the Farmer’s Business Network to explore new financing models to support farmers in their transition to climate-smart practices.

Urgency to cut methane emissions is growing

Climate impacts are already here, as many farmers will tell you. Cows’ health and productivity suffer in a warming climate, too. Dairy companies need to raise their ambition around methane and equip farmers to reduce methane emissions and keep animals healthy and productive on a hotter planet.

Tools and solutions exist today, and the dairy industry must get started with the solutions available. We’ve seen big strides this year with dairy giant Danone partnering with EDF to reduce methane from its fresh milk supply chain 30% by 2030 — and news that the upcoming United Nations climate talks, COP28, will put a focus on food-related emissions.

As part of our collaborative work with leading food companies looking to reduce emissions in the food supply chain, we’re translating the best available scientific, economic and policy knowledge into practical, actionable advice that these businesses can use. For example, EDF’s work with Danone includes research, innovative financing for farmers, and advocating for action from the industry and governments to prioritize agricultural methane solutions.

Of course, no single company or industry can meet the climate challenge alone. We need governments and policymakers to join us on this crucial mission to cut methane emissions by providing farmers with existing tools to future-proof their businesses, and by investing in research to develop even more solutions for tomorrow.

With the food and agriculture sector facing an increasingly urgent methane moment, we’re calling on dairy companies to join us and lead, helping to stabilize the climate and build a vital earth for everyone.