According to its new report, Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities, beef and cattle milk are the top sources of livestock emissions, accounting for 41% and 20% of the sector’s total. The FAO estimates that pig meat accounts for about 9% of emissions, buffalo meat and milk for 8% and poultry meat and eggs for about 8%.
Seven years ago, the FAO estimated in its report Livestock’s Long Shadow that raising animals for meat and milk was responsible for 18% of all global emissions – more than transport. The FAO says its latest estimate is not comparable, because it used different reference periods and sources. The new figures also suggest that the world should expect a 70% increase in livestock production by 2050.
Specifically, the FAO said emissions could be cut by up to 30% through improving animal and herd efficiency, better management of grazing lands and improved breeding and animal health measures.
Doable – without changing systems
"These new findings show that the potential to improve the sector's environmental performance is significant – and that realizing that potential is indeed doable," said Ren Wang, FAO assistant director-general for agriculture and consumer protection. "These efficiency gains can be achieved by improving practices, and don't necessitate changing production systems. But we need political will, better policies and most importantly, joint action."
The FAO has established a Global Agenda of Action to promote sustainable livestock production, with input from diverse interested parties. It is currently prioritising three target areas in which it sees the biggest potential gains: promoting more efficient practices, improved grassland management and better manure management.
"Only by involving all stakeholders – the private and public sector, civil society research and academia and international organizations – will we be able to implement solutions that address the livestock sector's diversity and complexity," said Wang.
However, former World Bank Group lead environmental adviser Robert Goodland claims that the FAO figures underestimate the impact of livestock emissions. He and a colleague, current World Bank Group environmental specialist Jeff Anhang, point to their 2009 assessment that estimated the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock at 51% of the global human-attributable total.
In particular, Goodland says that the FAO does not take into account carbon dioxide from livestock respiration and the carbon absorption that does not occur on land set aside for livestock and feed production.