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Global livestock greenhouse gas increased by 51 percent during 1961-2010

Broadening Horizons N°11, August 2014

By Harinder Makkar, FAO, Rome

According to a recent paper by Caro et al. published in Climatic Change, increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission from livestock in developing countries was 117%, while the emission from developed countries decreased by 23% during the period 1960-2010.

After a peak in livestock GHG emission from developed countries in the 1970s, it has been in decline. Increase in enteric methane accounted for most of the increase in GHG emission from developing countries. In 2010, contribution of methane to the total livestock GHG emissions was 72%. Of the total global livestock emissions 74% was contributed by the beef and dairy cattle sectors.

Global GHG emission from beef cattle increased by 59% between 1961 and 2010 and the increase was almost entirely from developing countries. For the same period, of the total livestock GHG emissions, the average emissions were: beef cattle 54%, dairy cattle 17%, sheep 9%, buffalo 7%, pigs 5% and goats 4%. In 2010 pig emissions were almost similar in developed and developing countries.

In 1961 the three major livestock GHG emitting countries were USA (11.6%), India (10.9%) and USSR (9.8%); and in 2010, these changed to India (12.0%), Brazil (11.8%) and China (10.1%). In 2010 dairy cattle emission was largest for India (12% of global emissions from dairy animals) and beef cattle emission was largest for Brazil (18% of global emissions from beef cattle). Largest emissions for both sheep and pigs (respectively 25 and 30% of global emissions from the respective animal categories) were for China.

During the period 1961-2010, by percentage, emission from livestock increased the most in Congo, the Central African Republic and Oman (+929, +894 and +765% respectively), and decreased most in Bulgaria, Hungary and Finland (-71, -60 and -57% respectively), the study reports.

Livestock GHG emission per capita has been quite stable in developed countries between 1961 and 1979, but decreased by 40% thereafter till 2010. The livestock emission per capita decreased both in developing (-19%) and developed countries (-42%). As a result globally livestock emissions per capita decreased by 32%. In contrast to this general trend in decrease in emission per capita, it increased by 38% for Brazil from 1961 to 2010.

Emission intensities per tonne (kg CO2 equivalent/tonne of product)  of beef meat, dairy milk, pork and chicken meat, during the period 1961-2010, decreased by 52, 50, 73  and 67% respectively in developing countries. For developed countries the emission intensities have decreased but the extent of change is little. Emission intensity when expressed per dollar (US) of total economic output from the livestock sector (kg CO2 equivalent/$ Gross Domestic Product of livestock in each country) was highest in developing countries, particularly in African countries. The study finds that out of 20 countries that has highest emission intensity/$, 18 are in Africa; and top three being Eritrea, Niger and Ethiopia with 75.6, 40.7 and 40.6 kg CO2 equivalent/$. This value for some South American countries such as Bolivia and Argentina was also high, 28.9 and 16.7 respectively. Vietnam and India were most emission intensive countries in Asia, with values of 11.9 and 10.7 kg CO2 equivalent/$ respectively. On the other hand, this value for developed countries was much less. In Europe, Ireland had the highest emission intensity of 2.8 kg CO2 equivalent/$ and the value for the US was 0.5 kg CO2 equivalent/$. According to authors, in developing countries the amount of wealth generated per unit of GHG emitted from the livestock sector can be increased by improving both livestock farming practices and the overall state of economic development.

The authors followed IPCC guidelines (2006), Tier I method to generate the emission data for 237 countries and 11 livestock categories.

Source: Dario Caro, Steven J. Davis, Simone Bastianoni and Ken Caldeira. “Global and regional trends in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock”. Climatic Change, Volume 126, Issue 1-2, pp 203-216, published on line on 9 July 2014.