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.

Life Cycle Assessment of emissions from agriculture

Life cycle assessments (LCAs) quantify greenhouse gas emissions arising from the entire agricultural production chain. LCAs have largely fallen outside the traditional United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) processes. Scientific efforts have focused primarily on terrestrial inventories.  As a result, there are often large data gaps about the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emmissions produced from the agricultural sector.

There is a need to assess the key data and reporting activities required to undertake LCAs. Currently, there are several methodological approaches being undertaken with different institutions and organizations using different methods, data and ‘boundaries’. This situation, combined with a lack of metadata, makes it difficult to compare the figures produced from different LCAs.

Developing LCA methodologies

MICCA team members have developed a methodology to quantify greenhouse gas emissions arising from animal food chains. This methodology makes it possible to calculate how much greenhouse gases are emitted along the entire production chain for products such as milk, meat and eggs. The analysis covers:

  • emissions from the production of inputs, such as fertilizers and feeds;
  • greenhouse gases emitted on-farm; and
  • emissions arising during the processing of agricultural products once they have left the farm.

To date, studies have been undertaken of the main livestock sectors: beef, dairy, pigs, poultry, small ruminants and buffalo. These analyses will help identify efficient ways to produce livestock products while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and highlight potential wider environmental impacts. They will also help to guide the development of policies that support climate-smart production systems. This work also provides baseline information and a modelling framework for assessing the mitigation potentials of feed and manure management practices.

The analysis is being developed to expand the analysis to include 5 major crops: maize, wheat, barley, soybean and cassava.

The MICCA Programme has drafted LCA guidelines and provides examples of how these can be used not only for estimating greenhouse gases, but also for identifying mitigation ‘hotspots’, giving decision-makers the information they need to formulate policies and carry out effective actions for reducing emissions.

Click here to read Peter Ywema's view of LCA. Peter is the General Manager of the SAI Platform (Global).

last updated:  Friday, July 25, 2014