77 Is low carbon meat possible?

Options for low carbon meat production in a science-policy format


  • Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock
  • Government of New Zealand
  • Government of Ethiopia


Emissions can be reduced through improvements in productivity with concomitant decreases in emission intensity.  Around the world, meat production varies widely, from extensive pastoralist or ranching to intensive production of pork and poultry, and beef feedlot.  Accordingly, GHG emission intensity (emission per unit of output) differs widely, even among producers in the same area. Emission intensity often can be reduced by increasing animal productivity through better feed, genetics and health care.  Such productivity-raising measures also have the potential to raise food production and income, and spur rural development.

Well managed grassland can capture carbon, thereby generating offsets that reduce net emissions.  Grasslands and rangelands cover almost 70% of the global agricultural land, and have the potential to sequester carbon into the soil if appropriate grazing management practices are adopted.  Biomass production is typically higher in grazed rather than ungrazed pastures, and grazing reduces fire (open burning) and contributes to biodiversity. However, a large part of pasture, in particular in tropical regions, is degraded because of overgrazing, institutional weaknesses and lack of technical options at local level. Emissions can also be reduced by integrating livestock better in the circular economy.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Fritz Schneider, Chair, Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock
  • Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director General, FAO
  • H. E. Patrick Rata, Ambassador, New Zealand
  • Harry Clark, Co-chair of the Livestock Research Group, Global Research Alliance
  • Julián Chara, Centre for Research on Sustainable Agricultural Production Systems, Colombia
  • Zewdu Eshetu, Climate Change Centre, Ethiopia
  • Rodrigo Lima, Brazilian Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock/ Agroicone, Brazil
  • Carlos Seré, Bioversity International, Italy
  • Hans Hogeveen, Ambassador, Netherlands
  • Hsin Huang, Secretary General, International Meat Secretariat
  • Pablo Frere, Redes Chaco, Argentina, World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples
  • Ren Wang, Assistant Director General, FAO


This side event discussed options for low carbon meat production in a science-policy format

Population growth, urbanization, and rising income are rapidly raising the demand for animal products, particularly in low and middle income countries.

Livestock provides multiple benefits and plays a role not only as a source of dietary nutrients, but also as a source of income, employment, draught power, fuel, soil nutrients, and insurance, in addition to having cultural and religious significance in some countries.

Livestock production is one of the world’s largest user of land, and also one of the main contributors to anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from feed production (N2O, CO2), enteric methane (CH4), animal waste (N2O, CH4), and land use change associated with livestock (CO2).

Emissions can be reduced through improvements in productivity with concomitant decreases in emission intensity through better feed, genetics and health care. Such productivity-raising measures also have the potential to increase food production and income, and spur rural development.

Well managed grassland can capture carbon, thereby generating offsets that reduce net emissions.

“Zero carbon beef” production is developing in Brazil, by improving productivity and neutralizing emissions from cattle through carbon stocking in trees and soils.

FAO and the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, with the support of the Climate and Clean Air Collation, have set up the basis for low emissions beef in Argentina, as well as in 12 other countries.

Emissions can be reduced by integrating livestock better in the circular economy. Livestock waste can be converted into energy (biomass) and nutrients can be recovered. However, inappropriate policies with the wrong incentives can prevent more efficient circular economies.

From the 195 countries that signed the Paris agreement, 57 countries included livestock in their mitigation priorities and 44 included livestock in their adaptation plans.

The application of effective policies is complex and depends on the integration of science, economics, markets, governments and consumers (multi-stakeholders) into policy designing in order to evaluate opportunities, synergies and trade-offs, and guarantee the promotion of environmental and social benefits.

  • Low carbon meat is possible.
  • The presentations and discussion showed that reduction of GHG emissions from livestock is a must
  • There are a number of good examples of practice change which point in the right direction.
  • However the potential for reduction is huge. Especially when talking about methane, we have to keep in mind, that methane as compared to CO2 is relatively short-lived and will show results within 12 to 15 years. CO2 will stay much longer in the atmosphere.
  • But, we need to act decisively, it will not happen by itself.
  • Policy makers, scientists and the private sectors, producers and intergovernmental agencies will need to work together closely to meet this important challenge.
  • On the path towards low carbon livestock, multi-stakeholder partnerships and processes like the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock will be very important.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • The policy dialogue on the meat debate can help to find the right place for livestock in achieving healthy diets for all in a changing climate. Developing low carbon and climate-resilient livestock is a fundamental part of the solution.
  • Global Agenda’s and FAO’s actions are geared up to support livestock stakeholders and countries in making low carbon livestock happen through:
  • Strengthening the knowledge and evidence base by developing baselines, assessments and projections of emissions at local, national and global levels through geo-referenced data bases and modeling.
  • Developing tools, methodologies and protocols to measure emissions, and developing and assessing technical and policy options. The Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership develops tools and methodologies in a multi-stakeholder format.
  • Piloting and validating technical and policy options through development projects and programmes (currently in 17 developing countries), and support to up-scaling and investments (jointly with World Bank). FAO provided analysis and policy support to recent World Bank investments in West Africa (USD 250 million), Bangladesh (USD 500 million) and Ethiopia (USD 400 million).
  • Facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships and better integration of broad sustainability objectives, creation of synergies and mitigation of trade-offs, in particular, through the FAO-based Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock.
  • Unlocking the potential for low carbon livestock requires concerted action by all stakeholders to invest in the sector, address the institutional weaknesses, provide incentives for efficient and regenerative management, and accelerate the uptake of advanced practices.  Solutions exist but must be tailored to local conditions, taking into account the vast diversity of livestock systems.
  • Low carbon livestock is possible but it will not happen by itself.  FAO and the Global Agenda other partners stand ready to assist in these efforts.
Side Event - 77 - Sustainable Livestock Systems for carbon sequestration through silvopastoral approaches and efficient livestock management