FAO Investment Centre

A quick win in battle against climate crisis

FAO technical support for investments helps improve livelihoods and nutrition while curbing livestock greenhouse gas emissions

Our social media feeds and airwaves may be abuzz with climate predictions and polemics. But let’s focus for a moment on one area offering relatively quick and straightforward wins against climate change: lowering emissions from the planet’s billions of livestock. Although some voices, particularly in high-income countries, say we shouldn’t be keeping the animals at all, they are an essential —or sometimes the only— source of nutrition and income for some of the world’s poorest communities. And by investing in better ways of feeding and managing livestock, we can preserve livelihoods and provide people with better nourishment while reducing the harmful impact of methane and other gases released by the livestock value chain.

That’s the thinking behind FAO’s work providing technical support and expertise to governments and multilateral lenders, like the World Bank, for projects benefiting millions of livestock keepers. FAO’s support ensures that these investments and projects incorporate more climate-smart livestock management practices into their efforts.

We share our planet with around 1.5 billion head of cattle and 2 billion sheep and goats, among other livestock, and the methane produced by their digestion is more potent than carbon dioxide. Although it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere for nearly as long, methane traps 27 times more heat over a 100-year period.

Yet, when it comes to ways of bringing these emissions down, there are encouraging results from the work that FAO is engaged in with partners including the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in a dozen countries. These initiatives aim for greater inclusion of climate objectives in livestock development, training stakeholders to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and grasping the climate benefits of improvements in livestock production. Such measures include better management of animal health and reproduction, better grazing management and restoring pastures, improving feed and forage mixes and better storage and use of manure.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, FAO has calculated the climate impact of a large IFAD-investment in dairy farms. Results showed that this investment reduced GHG emissions by 17 percent while increasing milk and meat production by four percent. FAO and IFAD then worked with the government to include the outcomes of this assessment in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the country’s pledges to reduce emissions and meet global climate goals as decided in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

For the pastoralist or smallholder farmer on the grassy steppes of Central Asia or the rangelands of Sub-Saharan Africa, the message is clear: “You can get the most out of your herd, have a better diet and that can also help the environment around you. If your environment is healthy, it will be productive and beneficial for all. So it’s a win-win situation,” says Thanawat Tiensin, Director of FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division.

Such outcomes are all the more significant in light of the discussions on climate change and the undifferentiated criticism directed at the livestock sector. “If it weren’t for FAO’s work, some multilateral lenders might shy away from investing in livestock development projects altogether, which would leave millions in a very dire situation,” says Thanawat.

Building country capacity

In recent years there’s been growing consensus that the world needs to address the issues of food security, nutrition and climate together, not follow a climate agenda which overlooks the plight of the billions of people facing food insecurity and hunger. The livestock sector has been particularly important in the international discussion and in a decision made at the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) in 2017. This outcome, called the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, recognizes the unique potential of agriculture in tackling climate change.

But there have been limited concrete steps forward and only about one in five countries have included climate commitments on livestock in their new or updated NDCs towards reducing GHGs. Moreover, most of those commitments are conditional, firstly on funding being available and secondly on the provision of technical support.

That’s what makes FAO’s role particularly crucial in helping to unlock multilateral finance for the livestock sector by making sure climate-smart practices are incorporated into the projects and by providing the necessary training and know-how to governments and lenders in calculating GHG emissions using tools, such as the free online Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model-interactive, GLEAM-i.  

As global leaders gather for the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) in November 2022, amid increasing alarm over where our climate crisis is heading, these moves to reduce livestock emissions clearly represent a cost-effective and relatively quick path to achieve significant results alongside work to address the many challenges of other agricultural and industrial sectors.


This article first appeared in FAO Stories here

Photo credit FAO / Vyacheslav Oseledko