Sep 23, 2022

Satellite-Based Carbon Tracker Helps Animal Ag Meet Climate Goals

Provides specific field emissions data to better quantify impacts of sustainable practices

As the world’s population and incomes grow, livestock-related emissions will increase — unless every step of the supply chain from field to farm commits to implementing sustainable agriculture practices.

While many stakeholders are committed, it’s often difficult for producers to quantify the environmental impact of individual sustainable ag practices, which could mislead climate action and slow the sector’s progress towards net zero.

CarbonSpace calculations inform climate practice decisions

CarbonSpace is a Dublin-based startup that set out to take on the challenge of accounting for land-use emissions and sequestration with a satellite-powered platform for carbon footprint tracking.

“Growers and food producers rely on various calculators, which use standard emission factors,” said Lydia Ashburn, growth associate, CarbonSpace.

“As these tools are based on statistics and averages, they can’t provide locally relevant data or detect the quality of practice implementation and its impact in specific conditions.”

The CarbonSpace platform’s proprietary, science-based technology provides emissions estimates unique to individual fields, empowering crop producers to calculate their contribution to reducing the carbon footprint of the overall livestock supply chain.

Many satellite imagery solutions will use a yes/no principle to confirm whether a particular sustainable practice was implemented but still apply standard emission factors to produce a carbon calculation. The CarbonSpace tool, on the other hand, does not rely on any emissions factors or averages.

“At the core of the CarbonSpace technology are machine learning algorithms trained on global multispectral satellite imagery and greenhouse gas (GHG) flux data from ground stations,” Ashburn said.

“As a result, the CarbonSpace tool provides direct estimates on a monthly basis of carbon stock change for each specific field in the supply chain with known accuracy.”

Decades of data provide greater emissions insights

CarbonSpace’s platform accesses satellite and ground station data from as far back as January 2000 to calculate estimates for a field of interest. It then applies its machine learning algorithm to the specific field’s data in any part of the world to prepare estimates for their clients.

“From the start of a new project, we provide over 20 years of historical data on the carbon stock change of the land and follow that with monthly updates,” Ashburn said. “The historical data is available for every month since January 2000, and the updates for each new month come two weeks after the month ends.”

The process is fully remote and automated, requiring no onsite operations.

For producers, it’s a scalable and cost-effective way to estimate the emission and sequestration levels of land and assess the impacts of their sustainable agricultural practices.

Monitoring carbon stock changes in the fields where feed ingredients are grown helps provide greater insights across the entire animal ag supply chain, taking the sector another step closer to net zero.

Net Zero, Carbon Neutral, Climate Neutral: What Does it All Mean?

Climate change policies and corporate sustainability initiatives all strive to improve the same planet, so why are the terms used to describe these objectives so different? Goals like climate neutral, net zero warming and net zero carbon seem to have the same effect, but they don’t necessarily mean the same thing.

A 2021 University of California, Davis, report, Pathway to Climate Neutrality for U.S. Beef and Dairy Cattle Production, concluded that net zero warming — instead of net zero carbon— is the climate goal beef and dairy sectors should be working towards.

In addition to outlining what producers can do to reduce methane emissions from cows, the report includes several climate phrase definitions, provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change glossary, such as:

1. Carbon neutral

Occurs when the anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with a subject are balanced out by the removal of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The subject can be anything from a country to an organization, to a district, a commodity, or an activity, such as a service or event. Carbon neutrality is often assessed over the life cycle, including indirect emissions, but can also be limited to the emissions and removals over a specified period for which the subject has direct control.

2. Net zero CO2 emissions

The UC-Davis report said on a global scale, the terms carbon neutrality and net zero CO2 emissions are equivalent. However, on a sub-global scale, net zero CO2 emissions is generally applied to emissions and removals under direct control or territorial responsibility of the reporting entity, while carbon neutrality generally includes emissions and removals beyond the reporting entity’s direct control or responsibility, as in the life cycle emissions.

3. Net zero GHG emissions

A close comparison to carbon neutral, however, greenhouse emissions and removals must be metric weighted. The subject can be an entity such as a country, organization, district, commodity, or activity and may include life cycle emissions or only emissions for which the reporting entity has direct control. Quantifying GHG emissions and removals depends on the GHG emission metric chosen to compare emissions and removals of different gases, as well as the time horizon chosen for that metric.

4. Climate neutrality

The IPCC doesn’t have a formal definition for climate neutrality; however, it’s commonly understood as achieving no additional climate impact from activities from an entity at the regional, sub-national, or national scale.

5. Net zero warming

Also not formally defined by the IPCC, but it can be viewed as equivalent to climate neutrality, characterized by achieving and maintaining net emissions at 0 CO2 warming equivalents. Net zero warming implies activities from an entity at the regional, sub-national, or national scale would not lead to additional warming, and could be defined by reaching and maintaining net 0 CO2 warming equivalent emissions.

Source: Pathway to Climate Neutrality for U.S. Beef and Dairy Cattle Production. By Dr. Sara E. Place, Elanco Animal Health and Dr. Frank M. Mitloehner, University of California, Davis

Elise Schafer

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