A lot is written about the impact of industry and power stations on climate change but the world’s vast herds of livestock also play a role.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, essentially flatulence, from these cows, sheep and goats would go a along way toward managing increasing temperatures associated with climate change.
But the trick is growing a steak and eating it as well without adding more heat trapping gas to the atmosphere than necessary. For example, the Australian cattle herd, estimated at 26.8 million in 2015, produces the equivalent to 12.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
The latest scientific analysis, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, estimates that livestock could account for up to half of the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of the global agricultural, forestry and land-use sectors, the second largest source of emissions after the energy industry.
Dr Mario Herrero, at Australia’s peak science body, the CSIRO, says this analysis is the most comprehensive to date, looking at both the supply and demand sides of the livestock industry.
A key finding is that the best potential is via an integrated view of the whole of agriculture and forestry as well as dietary patterns and how to address the nutrition needs of the world.
“Livestock has a role in a healthy and sustainable diet, and the sector has an important economic and social role, particularly in developing countries,” says Dr Herrero.
“We need to balance these health outcomes and the economic and social benefits, while also capturing the mitigation potential the livestock sector can offer.”
Dr Herrero says intensifying livestock production is one way this can be done.
“We’ve found that there are a number of ways that the livestock sector can contribute to global greenhouse gas mitigation,” he says.
“New management practices such as rotational grazing and dietary supplements can increase livestock production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We need to increase the adoption of these different strategies by making sure that we have the right incentives.
“If appropriately managed with the right regulatory framework, these practices can also achieve improved environmental health over and above the greenhouse gas benefits delivered, for example through improved ground cover and soil carbon.”
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