Livestock and Climate Change: Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities

July 28th 2014


Enrique Garcia

Enrique Garcia

In September 2013, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published the report, Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. This 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.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) 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 the report.

GHG emissions associated with livestock supply chains add up to 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year – or 14.5 % of all human-caused greenhouse gas releases. The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45 %), outputs of greenhouse gas during digestion by cattle (39 %), and manure decomposition (10 %). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products[1].



To arrive at its estimates, FAO conducted a detailed analysis of GHG emissions at multiple stages of various livestock supply chains. This included 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.

Wider adoption of existing best practices and technologies in feeding, health and husbandry, and manure management – as well as greater use of currently underutilized 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.

River Devon, Clackmannashire, Scotland

© Steve Morgan / WWF-UK

Many of the actions FAO recommends for improving efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions would also boost production – providing people with more food and higher incomes, with benefits for food security and poverty reduction.

Currently, livestock rising supports the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people, and represents an increasingly important source of protein in many regions that have long struggled with chronic hunger and malnutrition.

The LiveWell for LIFE project recommends through its fourth message to moderate our meat consumption, both red and white, and diversify our sources of protein to include peas, beans and nuts.

Even though the impacts of livestock on climate change are immense, the promotion of a meat-less diet across Europe would probably have a very low acceptance, therefore a more realistic approach is to promote the diversification and the reduction of meat consumption.


Enrique Garcia

LiveWell Stakeholder Relations Manager – WWF-UK

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