Greenhouse gas emissions by the livestock sector could be cut by as much as 30% through the wider use of existing best practices and technologies, according to a new study released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The report, Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities, represents the most comprehensive estimate made to-date of livestock’s contribution to global warming – as well as the sector’s potential to help tackle the problem.
All told, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with livestock supply chains add up to 7.1 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq) per year – or 14.5% of all human-caused GHG releases.
The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45% of the total), outputs of GHG during digestion by cows (39%), and manure decomposition (10%). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products.
To arrive at its estimates, FAO conducted a detailed analysis of GHG emissions at multiple stages of various livestock supply chains, including the production and transport of animal feed, on-farm energy use, emissions from animal digestion and manure decay, as well as post-slaughter transport, refrigeration and packaging of animal products.
By drilling down into where and how emissions occur, the report reveals that significant emission reductions are within the reach of livestock producers. Wider adoption of existing best practices and technologies in feeding, health and husbandry, and manure management – as well as greater use of currently underutilised technologies such as biogas generators and energy-saving devices – could help the global livestock sector cut its outputs of global warming gases as much as 30% by becoming more efficient and reducing energy waste.
Within livestock production systems, there is a strong link between resource use efficiency and the intensity of GHG emissions, notes FAO’s report. The potential for achieving emissions reductions lies in enabling all livestock producers to change to practices already being used by the most efficient operators.
“These new findings show that the potential to improve the sector’s environmental performance is significant – and that realising that potential is indeed do-able,” 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.”
With world demand for livestock products continuing to grow strongly in almost all developing countries, he added, “it is imperative that the sector starts working now to achieve these reductions, to help offset the increases in overall emissions that future growth in livestock production will entail.”