To Reduce Greenhouse Gases From Cows And Sheep, We Need To Look At The Big Picture

To Reduce Greenhouse Gases From Cows And Sheep, We Need To Look At The Big Picture Livestock ‘digestion’ produces nearly 3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year. Cattle image from www.shutterstock.com

Farming livestock – cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens – contributes around 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) to the atmosphere each year. While estimates vary, this could represent up to 18% of global emissions.

But the livestock sector also offers great benefits. It includes 20 billion animals, supports 1.3 billion farmers and retailers, and contributes up to half of the economic product from agriculture. The consumption of meat, milk and eggs is projected to grow 70% by 2050, mostly in the developing world.

Our study, published in Nature Climate Change, reveals that the global livestock sector can maintain the economic and social benefits it delivers while significantly reducing emissions. In doing so it will help meet the global mitigation challenge.

Livestock around the world

Around 1.6-2.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year, mostly methane, are produced from livestock digestion. Another 1.3-2.0 billion tonnes of nitrous oxide come from producing feed for livestock. And the final 1.6 billion tonnes comes from land use changes, such as clearing for animal pastures.

Emissions from livestock production vary across the globe. The developing world accounts for 70% of emissions, mainly because of the large numbers of animals used for a variety of purposes beyond production of meat, milk and eggs.

To Reduce Greenhouse Gases From Cows And Sheep, We Need To Look At The Big Picture Greenhouse gas emissions from global livestock 1995-2005. Red areas represent more greenhouse gases. Herrero et al 2016 Nature Climate Change

The emissions intensity of producing livestock products (the amount of greenhouse gas that goes into producing a kilogram of protein) also differs significantly between regions. The developed world has lower emission intensities than the developing world due to the use of better feeds and management practices.

There are also large differences between livestock products. Poultry and pork products produce fewer emissions per unit of product than milk, and all these produce less than red meats.

Reducing emissions

It seems likely that emissions from livestock could be reduced by around 2.4 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases each year through technology and management.

Achieving these savings will be dependent on improvements in feeding practices (better pastures, new types of food, more grains and others), improved ways of handling manure, and improved genetics and animal management. Many of these strategies are based on sustainable intensification: producing more livestock protein with fewer resources; and storing carbon in the land.

Much less is known about the costs. This is in part a consequence of uncertainty about technology development and local costs. But we need to make sure the costs of reducing emissions are balanced with the benefits of livestock production.

Policy changes will also be important. Adoption of many practices that reduce gross greenhouse gas emissions has been low (10-30% of producers) due to poor incentives.

Unfavourable credit conditions, lack of markets, and/or systems for rewarding environmental performance are all hurdles. Our analysis highlights that global efforts should take these important areas into account when considering options to maximise return on mitigation investments.

The balancing act of using land

The livestock sector is connected to many other sectors using land and resources, so targeting livestock alone won’t work.

One of the key potential benefits of livestock mitigation is that many of the ways to reduce emissions could spare land, especially if this is associated with a reduction in animal numbers and a switch to fewer but more productive animals.

The spared land could be used directly for increasing food production for humans, for biofuels, or for replanting forests, for example.

All of these require incentives and public and private economic instruments to ensure livestock producers do not lose as a result of changes in practices. We also need to make sure producers don’t expand operations, if it pays to implement profitable practices!

What is certain, is that mitigation efforts in the land use sector need to be coordinated for them to be effective. It will be a game of carrots and sticks to ensure we get this right, and this is an urgent area of continuous research.

Eat less meat?

The elephant in the room is whether we should be looking to transition away from eating meat. We found that, in theory, this practice could mitigate up 5-6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the most extreme scenarios.

But as with many interconnected systems there is rarely an easy answer. In the developing world for instance, where lack of some nutrients and too many of others can occur at the same time, the problem is more complex. The question becomes about who keeps on eating and who should reduce consumption, and which products and where.

These issues are highly localised and therefore require local policy responses and action. With such an interconnected sector contributing 40-50% of agricultural GDP and to significant employment, poorly planned transitions in the global food system could have serious negative consequences in terms of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We can get the best mitigation potential from the livestock sector if we take a wide view of land use and practise change that considers the whole of agriculture and forestry, as well as looking at dietary patterns and how we meet the needs of global nutrition.

Sustainable intensification of livestock can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it will require better management, economic incentives and well-designed policies.

About The Author

Mario Herrero, Chief Research Scientist, Food Systems and the Environment, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…
How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
300 Million Face Severe Risk of Climate-Fueled Coastal Flooding by 2050
by Democracy Now!
As a shocking new report finds that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising sea levels by 2050, Chile’s President…
Climate Warning: California Continues To Burn, Data Estimates Of Global Flooding
by MSNBC
Ben Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist of Climate Central joins MTP Daily to discuss alarming new information about…

LATEST ARTICLES

How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon
How Climate, Not Conflict, Drove Many Syrian Refugees To Lebanon
by Hussein A. Amery
People who fled Syria in recent years are often viewed as war refugees because of the violence that has engulfed much…
Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Iceland Put People First To Save Melting Economy
Iceland Put People First To Save Melting Economy
by Alex Kirby
Faced in 2008 with a melting economy, Iceland acted fast to avoid total collapse. Icelanders’ own needs were its…
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
How The Climate Crisis Could Reverse Progress In Achieving Gender Equality
How The Climate Crisis Could Reverse Progress In Achieving Gender Equality
by Nitya Rao
People who directly depend on the natural world for their livelihoods, like farmers and fishers, will be among the…
The Climate Crisis: 6 Steps To Making Fossil Fuels History
The Climate Crisis: 6 Steps To Making Fossil Fuels History
by Stephen Peake
In shouting “system change not climate change”, young people understand that the 3-4℃ warmer world we’re headed for…
The Five Corrupt Pillars Of Climate Change Denial
by Mark Maslin
The fossil fuel industry, political lobbyists, media moguls and individuals have spent the past 30 years sowing doubt…
How Computer Models Predict Where We’ll Go As Seas Rise
How Computer Models Predict Where We’ll Go As Seas Rise
by Elizabeth Fussell and David Wrathall
A new modeling approach can help us better understand how policy decisions will influence human migration as sea levels…