RAISING CATTLE-AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS: Livestock Generate More CO2 Than the Transport Sector

CCPA Monitor, May 2007 | Go to article overview

RAISING CATTLE-AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS: Livestock Generate More CO2 Than the Transport Sector


Special FAO Report

Which causes more greenhouse gas emissions, rearing cattle or driving cars?

Surprise! According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent-18%-than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.

Says Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO's Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report: "Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation."

With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1,043 million tonnes.

The global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural subsector. It provides livelihoods to about 1.3 billion people and contributes about 40% to global agricultural output. For many poor farmers in developing countries livestock are also a source of renewable energy for draft and an essential source of organic fertilizer for their crops.

But such rapid growth exacts a steep environmental price, according to the FAO report, Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. "The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one-half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level," it warns.

When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9% of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

It also accounts for, respectively, 37% of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64% of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

Livestock now use 30% of the planet's entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33% of the global arable land used to produce feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70% of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

At the same time, herds cause widescale land degradation, with about 20% of pastures degraded through overgrazing, compaction, and erosion. This figure is even higher in the dry-lands, where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification. …

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RAISING CATTLE-AND GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS: Livestock Generate More CO2 Than the Transport Sector
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