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Tackling climate change through livestock

 

An important emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), the livestock sector also has a large potential to reduce its emissions.
This is the main conclusion drawn by the report “Tackling climate change through livestock”. This newly released report provides the most comprehensive global assessment made to-date of the livestock sector’s GHG emissions and its mitigation potential.

The report also presents a detailed assessment  of the magnitude, the sources and pathways of emissions from different production systems and supply chains. Relying on life cycle assessment, statistical analysis and scenario building, it identifies concrete options to reduce emissions.

It comes at a time when the world needs to urgently reduce GHG emissions to avert catastrophic climate change. The livestock sector can make an important contribution to such international efforts by offsetting some of the sector’s emission increases, which are expected as demand for livestock products is projected to grow by 70 percent by 2050.

Key messages

Important GHG emissions

  • The livestock sector plays an important role in climate change. It is estimated to emit 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per annum, representing 14.5 percent of all human-induced emissions.
  • Beef and cattle milk production account for the majority of emissions, respectively contributing 41 and 19 percent of the sector’s emissions. While pig meat and poultry meat and eggs contribute respectively 9 percent and 8 percent to the sector's emissions.
  • The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45 percent of the total – with 9 percent attributable to the expansion of pasture and feed crops into forests), enteric fermentation from ruminants (39 percent), and manure decomposition (10 percent). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products.

Sizeable reductions within reach

  • Sector emissions could already be brought down significantly just through the wider use of existing best practices and technologies. Technologies and practices that contribute to reducing emissions already exist, but could be used more widely.
  • A 30 percent reduction of GHG emissions would be possible if producers in a given system, region and climatic zone adopted the technologies and practices currently used by their least emission intensive (emissions per unit of animal product) peers.
  • Substantial emission reductions can be achieved across all species, systems and regions.

Efficiency key to reducing emissions

  • Possible interventions to reduce emissions are mainly based on technologies and practices that improve production efficiency at animal and herd levels. They include better feeding practices, animal husbandry and health management.  
  • Manure management practices that ensure the recovery and recycling of nutrients and energy contained in manure, and energy savings and recycling along supply chains, are further mitigation options.

Mitigation for development

  • Most mitigation interventions can provide both environmental and economic co-benefits. Efficient practices and technologies can boost productivity and thus contribute to food security and poverty alleviation.

Urgent need for collective and global action

  • Global action involving all sector stakeholders is urgently required to design and implement cost-effective and equitable mitigation strategies, and to set up the necessary supporting policies and institutional frameworks.
  • The adoption of new practices and technologies will require a mix of supporting policies, incentives, research and on-the-ground extension work.

This report is complemented by two technical reports providing a more in-depth analysis of emissions by sub-sectors (pig and chicken supply chains and ruminant supply chains).

FAO’s commitment to practice improvements and sector sustainability

FAO is actively involved in the Agenda of Action in support of Sustainable Livestock Sector Development, a global multi-stakeholder partnership dedicated to improving practices for a more efficient use of natural resources. It focuses on three areas:  practices efficiency, grassland management and manure management. 

FAO is also actively involved in the Livestock Environment Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership, a cross-sectoral effort to develop common metrics to define and measure environmental performance of livestock supply chains.