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From here to 2030: Greenhouse gas reduction in Denmark

With targeted efforts and research, Danish agriculture is set to cost-effectively meet the ambitious EU requirements on greenhouse gas reduction while also maintaining food production.

The EU requires that agriculture in Denmark reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 39 per cent between now and 2030, relative to 2005 levels. Danish agriculture is already highly efficient, has increasing productivity and has one of the smallest climate footprints. Its focus on livestock, however, means that funded research and ingenuity are still required. The three gases under scrutiny are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide, each requiring a different approach and techniques. Professor Jørgen E. Olesen of the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University believes that the target is achievable, although there are limits as to what can be achieved on CO2. He says: “Reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions will have the biggest effect and solutions for these have to be further explored.”

Professor Olesen says that methane can be reduced through adjustments to cattle feed; by adding kelp, oregano or nitrate for example. With regard to manure stores, slurry can be acidified or used for biogas. On the question of nitrous oxide, he believes that research into nitrification inhibitors, as well as fertiliser and soil type emissions are likely to be fruitful.

Another issue is the non-advantageous – not to say unfair – interplay between non-quota sectors for greenhouse gases (agriculture, transport, buildings and waste) and quota sectors (energy). This means that biogases produced as a result of efficient agricultural activities do not benefit, while energy sector consumption of those same gases does profit through the production of electricity and heat.

In a mischievous departure from dry science lecturing, Professor Olesen summarises the situation: “We need some kind of magic powder,” referring to both the methane and nitrous oxide questions. He is, of course, talking about the kelp and nitrification style approaches but also acknowledges that new, and as yet uncosted, patented products are set to reach the market. These could well prove to be commercial successes but, in the meantime, his “magic powders” need further research funding.

The head of Olesen’s department, Erik Steen Kristensen, suggests that collaborative research across Europe is important and would be a further boost to Denmark’s successes to date. He says: “We need further reductions and we should cooperate with other EU countries to achieve them. Thus, Europe as a whole will be able to reduce climate gas emissions.”

Once the initiatives and mitigations have been identified and developed, the next stage is to motivate the farmers to use them. The solutions should be efficient in relation to greenhouse gas emissions, practically applicable and should ensure that the agricultural sector can maintain its high productivity – all without being too expensive. Denmark with its existing successes under its belt and with more to come, is well placed to benefit and its farmers are aware that they will too.