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Measuring greenhouse gas emissions of diverse livestock systems is a first step in shrinking carbon ‘hoofprints’

Camels in Methera area

A camel train in the Methera region of Oromia, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

We can shrink the carbon footprint of livestock,
but we need to properly measure their emissions first.

Written by Polly Ericksen, program leader at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

‘The good news is that the Paris Agreement to tackle global warming has come into force today ahead of the COP22 climate summit in Morocco, marking an unprecedented milestone in international cooperation to protect the planet.

‘The bad news is that the current pledges countries have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as they stand, are insufficient to meet the goal of preventing global temperatures from increasing by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. It’s like the world has signed up to the gym, but hasn’t made it there to exercise yet. . . .

One thing is certain:

If we are to have any chance of success,
one sector that we cannot ignore is livestock.

‘This is true not only in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also when it comes to adapting global food production systems to deal with the impact of climate change.

‘The meat, milk and eggs that livestock give us remain key to addressing hunger and malnutrition. . . .

‘However, despite these many benefits, it has also been estimated that the sector is responsible for 14.5 percent of human-generated emissions worldwide. . . .

In developing countries, there is significant opportunity
to reduce emissions from livestock systems and
simultaneously improve their productivity.

‘. . . But we also need to be confident we are accurately measuring greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. Most developing countries currently rely on estimates generated for systems in North America, Europe or Australia. . . .

This means we have little accurate data
on emissions from livestock
in the developing world.

Given such regional variations in production systems,
we need to be prepared to recognise that livestock’s
carbon footprint varies from region to region.

‘. . . [W]hile the livestock sector can do much to lower its environmental impact, it also offers ‘win-win’ solutions that can help climate-proof the industry while becoming more efficient and productive. . . .

‘It is imperative that those working to tackle climate change not only collaborate with the livestock sector but also acknowledge its positive impact on food, health and income security, particularly in the developing world.’

By focusing on livestock, we do more
than lower greenhouse gas emissions.
We help safeguard the world’s
broader development progress as well. 

Read the whole of Ericksen’s opinion piece on the Thomson Reuters Foundation News website: Animals must play a part in meeting Paris climate goals, 4 Nov 2016.

Read a related opinion piece by Ericksen, Let’s ‘meat’ in the middle on climate change, originally published by EurActive on 4 Nov 2016 and reposted on the ILRI News blog as ‘Meating’ in the middle on the ‘meat vs vegetarian’ diet debate at the climate change summit this week on 5 Nov 2016.

Follow the 22nd Convention of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which opens Mon, 7 Nov 2016, in Marrakech, Morocco, on Twitter: @COP22.

Special livestock side event
See from below that ILRI is jointly hosting a special side event on the afternoon of COP22’s opening day (Mon 7 Nov 2016) with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA). Participants of this event will explore practical innovations for establishing more accurate livestock greenhouse emissions factors for the world’s diverse livestock systems and regions.


The title of this side event is ‘Improving measurement, reporting and verification for agricultural emission reductions in the livestock sector’. To accelerate global emission reductions, improved measurement, reporting and verification is needed for mitigation in livestock production systems. We’ll share country experiences and practical innovations, to support collection and coordination of activity data and improved emission factors. Speakers at the livestock side event include: Alexandre Berndt (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation [EMBRAPA]), Zewdu Eshetu (Climate Science Centre, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.), Agripina Jenkins (Costa Rica Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock), Walter Oyhantcabal (Uruguay Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries), Bess Tiesnamurti (Indonesian Animal Husbandry Research and Development Center), and a representative from Morocco (to be announced).

Polly Ericksen leads ILRI’s research program on Livestock Systems and Environment. Ericksen has over 18 years of experience working on agricultural development, natural resource management and global environmental change in developing countries. She has a PhD in soil science and an MSc in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a BS in history from Swarthmore College.

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