Combination of reporting methods gives a better insight into agricultural climate effects
Public-Private Partnership Climate perspective on Dutch agri-production
The way in which the government reports on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture does not adequately represent the efforts made by the sector to reduce emissions. By solely measuring emissions within national borders and not accounting for effects attributed to other sectors, a significant portion of these efforts remains unnoticed. A visualization matrix developed in the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Climate Perspective on Dutch Agri-production makes effects that are currently hidden, visible. Blonk has been involved in this PPP as one of the knowledge partners.
Each year, the RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) compiles a National Inventory Report (NIR) on behalf of the Ministries of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy (EZK) and Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W). This report outlines the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the Netherlands that year. According to the United Nations Climate Convention, countries must periodically showcase their greenhouse gas emissions. The European Commission also wishes to stay informed. Through the NIR, the Dutch government meets these obligations. The NIR documents all emissions for which a member state is responsible: within its own national borders. The report is divided into six sectors, with agriculture being one of them. When combining the greenhouse gas emissions of all these six sectors, the result is the total emissions within the Netherlands in a given year.
Emissions from the chimney
However, the NIR does not tell the whole story. It reports emissions that come 'from the chimney'. Companies are accustomed to reporting using a chain approach: the LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) approach. This method measures the climate impact across the entire chain of a particular product. It's a different way of monitoring. For instance, if a dairy farmer obtains feed from their own land, they replace feed ingredients sourced from abroad, potentially preventing deforestation elsewhere in the world. This positive effect is visible in the LCA approach but not in the Dutch NIR agricultural sector.
Another example: if a pig farmer installs solar panels on their buildings or conserves energy, the positive effect ends up in the Dutch NIR Energy sector, not in the NIR agricultural sector. Consequently, if the government only sets reduction targets for the NIR Agricultural sector, part of the sector's efforts remains unnoticed. It can also lead to measures being taken elsewhere that, in turn, result in increased emissions. The question arises whether a unilateral policy direction on reduction per Dutch NIR sector indeed provides the right incentives.
It is certain that countries are obligated to report emissions within their own borders to the UN and the EU. However, with this NIR approach, chain effects outside the Netherlands, as well as benefits and burdens accounted for in other sectors, remain invisible. To address this, Wageningen University & Research, Blonk Sustainability, and industry associations Nevedi, NZO, SBK, and CoViVA initiated the public-private cooperation program Climate Perspective on Dutch Agri-production on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV).
A tangible outcome of this collaboration is the development of the 'visualization matrix'. Joan Reijs, senior researcher in Agricultural Sustainability Assessment at Wageningen University & Research, explains: "With this matrix, we can disaggregate emissions from livestock farming calculated using the chain approach by sector and regions: Netherlands, Europe, and the rest of the world. For instance, you can see at a glance that over 15 percent of emissions resulting from agricultural activities are registered in the Dutch energy sector for veal farming. Additionally, more than 12 percent of emissions are due to land use outside Europe. This broad scope is indispensable for genuinely steering towards climate impact."
Policy meeting on September 28, 2023
During a well-attended policy meeting on September 28 in The Hague, the PPP results were shared with policymakers from the Dutch government. The message - enrich existing monitoring focused on geographic categorization with data from the LCA approach - found a receptive audience, Reijs noted. "A significant portion of emissions resulting from Dutch activities occur abroad. However, government policy is directed towards the portion occurring within the country. Yet, everyone agrees that the goal is to reduce the total amount of greenhouse gases. It's crucial to acknowledge the overall efforts made by agriculture, even if the positive effects do not directly benefit the sector itself. Making chain effects visible is an important initial step."
Avoiding confusion and redundant efforts
During the meeting, there was a strong engagement on the topic. There appears to be support for adding the visualization matrix to existing government monitoring instruments. The lessons from the meeting will be summarized and translated into concrete advice for both the government and the industry. Reijs added, "It's essential that the effects of efforts are integrally visible in future monitoring and that confusion and redundant work due to different monitoring systems are minimized as much as possible."
Within the project, several factsheets have been published that illustrate the differences between the NIR and LCA methods for the various sectors.
More about the PPP
On the WUR landing page for the PPP you can find all (expected) publications, reports, fact sheets and a report of the policy meeting.
Below you can find the specific publications drafted by Blonk (only available in Dutch).
Gebruik van de LCA-methodiek in de Nederlandse agrosector
This exploratory report provides an introduction to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology and how this methodology is applied in the Dutch agri-sector to monitor the climate impact of the entire chain. Four sectors have been examined: animal feed, dairy, veal, and pork. For each sector, the extent to which it aligns with the European Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) standard is evaluated. Furthermore, insight is provided into how emission calculations according to the PEF may differ from the rules applied in the Netherlands for the annual National Inventory Reports (NIR) by the Dutch government. This report serves as the basis for developing the visualization matrix.
Invloed van allocatie in levenscyclusanalyse
When using the LCA methodology, environmental impacts over co-products sometimes need to be allocated. The allocated factors used have a significant impact on the final footprint of the products. In this report, we examine the influence of allocation in LCA within the Dutch agri-sector. We explore what the LCA standards prescribe about allocation and provide examples of different allocation choices. Subsequently, we link this to improvement measures and conclude that attributional LCA with allocation is not always sufficient for accurate guidance. Sometimes, a consequential approach is necessary to analyze the situation thoroughly and achieve actual reductions. We conclude the report with recommendations. This report provides insight into the limitations of applying LCAs to determine climate impact and reduction measures, along with advice on how to handle these limitations.
This report will be completed by the end of 2023. It focuses on the influence of allocation in life cycle analysis on calculating (reduction of) greenhouse gas emissions in the Dutch agri-sector.
Onzekerheden in de impactberekening van mengvoer
For the calculated impact of animal systems using LCA, feed supply is often a significant "hotspot." Simultaneously, a complex calculation underlies the impact results: from cultivation, possible processing, and sourcing from various countries to its utilization on the animal production farm. Moreover, there's a lot of variability in compound feeds: depending on the target animal, production farm, and season. In this report, we examine the uncertainties within calculating the impact of compound feed through LCA. Various aspects are addressed, such as raw material origin, the impact of deforestation, and the parameters used for modeling crop cultivation. We conclude by providing guidance on making the impact assessment of compound feed more robust.
This report will be available in 2024.
Get in touch
Do you have questions about this project? Get in touch with Nynke.