How long is livestock’s shadow?

28th October, 2009 - Posted by admin - 1 Comment

How long is livestock’s shadow?

The Times interviewed Lord Stern recently (Barack Obama must attend Copenhagen climate summit, says Lord Stern). He was a bit controversial saying we should give up meat to save the planet from climate change. In the supporting diagrams the Times gave livestock’s footprint was 9% of total greenhouse gasses.

Stern may have been influenced by a recent report by ex-colleagues at the World Bank. They have produced a report, Livestock and Climate Change, arguing that livestock is a much bigger impact on the climate than previously assumed. Previously the United Nation’s Food  and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) had highlighted livestock’s impact on the environment in Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. This estimates that livestock causes 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions.  But the World Bank people say:

Livestock are already well-known to contribute to GHG emissions. Livestock’s Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change.

But they continue:

But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.

So the Times says 9%, the UN FAO says 18% and the World bank says 51%.

Watch this space.

Posted on: October 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment


November 2nd, 2009 at 8:43 pm    

Professor Euan Nisbet, Professor of Geology at Royal Holloway University has sent NoBeef this comment:

1. The livestock industry is an industry, using a lot on fossil carbon for everything from tractors to fertiliser manufacture – so in that sense it is a major source of CO2. The world’s biggest meat company is in Brazil – it has promised not to use rainforest cows, and it will use a lot of bioalcohol in its fuels, but its emissions must be large.

2. The respiration argument in the attachment is ridiculous as every C atom respired by a pig was captured by photosynthesis a few months before. Pigs are not breathing fossil carbon but carbon recently captured from the atmosphere.

3. As for methane, the figures for cow emissions are one of the most poorly constrained parts of the global budget. They could be large, or small. In global methane models, ‘ruminants’ are a ‘bucket’ term and a good deal of this could be wetland. Isotopic data from the tropics are virtually non-existent. Cow emission estimates come from a very small number of experiments in barns in places like Germany and New Zealand and are probably very unrepresentative of the big industry in Brazil, or the Indian and African cows. We don’t really have a clue.

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