Denmark Plans for a Carbon Neutral Food System by 2050

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Carbon Neutral
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Climate-Neutral 2050

Overview: Denmark’s food industry has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

Location: Denmark

Population: 5.8 million

Food policy category: Sustainable agriculture, climate change, food security

Program goals: To reduce climate change while increasing food production

How it works: In A Pathway to Carbon Neutral Agriculture in Denmark, the World Resources Institute describes several strategies for reaching carbon neutrality in Denmark’s food system. 

  1. Improving feed efficiency for pork and dairy: Feed quantity is directly related to the crops needed to make the feed, which, in turn, impacts the amount of emissions resulting from crop production. Some of the suggested methods of improving feed efficiency include breeding more efficient cattle that do not need as much food, changing the types of feed, or “herd management” that will increase offspring and improve cattle health.
  1. Restoring peatlands:  Peatlands are wetlands that do not allow plants to fully decompose. When the peatlands are drained for agricultural use, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Restoring, or re-wetting, the peatlands will eliminate carbon dioxide emissions.
  1. Reducing emissions through manure management: The ways in which manure is collected, stored, and used generate 16 percent of Denmark’s total production emissions. To reduce these emissions, the report suggests more frequent removal of manure from barns, using digesters to produce usable biogas from the manure, and acidification (adding sulfuric acid to manure, which reduces emissions up to 90 percent).
  1. Reducing emissions from nitrogen used in soil: Nitrogen is used in various forms to improve soil quality, resulting in 4.3 million tons of emissions. Solutions to this problem include the use of both nitrogen-fixing microbes and nitrification inhibitors, which delay or prevent the production of nitrates.  
  1. Reducing emissions from enteric methane: Enteric methane is produced by cattle during the digestive process and released into the atmosphere when the cattle burp. These emissions account for 4.6 million tons of Denmark’s production emissions. To reduce them, it is recommended that a molecule called 3-NOP and/or algae be used as feed additives. 

In addition, Denmark’s new dietary guidelines recommend eating more carbon-friendly foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, in order to reduce the carbon footprint of food production. 

Progress to date: In 2019, the Danish agriculture industry announced a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. In May 2021, World Resources Institutes published a report commissioned by a Danish agriculture trade group that outlines strategies for achieving that goal.  

Why it is important: Denmark wants to lead the rest of the world in an effort to reduce climate change while also continuing to feed the world’s growing population. 

Globally, agriculture emissions constitute up to 31 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Climate change itself, through increased temperatures and natural disasters, will cause a decreased and less nutritious crop yield, as well as less healthy livestock, which may result in food shortages around the world.  

By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to reach nearly 10 billion, and food production will have to keep up with growing demands. Rather than decreasing agriculture production to help reverse climate change, Denmark is setting the stage to increase food production in a cost-effective and climate-friendly manner.  

Program/Policy initiated: The goal was announced in 2019. 

Point of contact: N/A

Similar practices: The Danish food industry hopes to be a global leader in achieving carbon-neutral food systems. 

Evaluation: Evaluation has not yet been conducted. 

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