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Carbon emissions

carbon emissions livestock diet

Causes: Emissions related to growing feedstock, respiratory / digestive processes and manure generated by the 24 bn animals. 

Foodprint - Emissions: Accounting for 18% of global GHG emissions, the livestock industry is the single largest sectoral source of carbon emissions, emitting more GHG than the transportation, industrial or energy industries.

Carbon emissions and global warming

Carbon levels in the atmosphere are at the highest levels in recorded human history. This is already leading to rising temperatures, depleting ice covers and rising sea levels. We are getting dangerously close to the 2 degree warning limit, that is linked to significant adverse climatic changes. 

Carbon emissions and livestock

As per the United Nations1,the livestock industry is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally (18% of global carbon emissions = 7.8 bn tons of carbon dioxide per annum). To put this in perspective, the livestock sector contributes:

Livestock's carbon emissions compared to other industries 1

  • 38% more emissions than that produced by all our oil, coal, gas and other power plants (energy share: 13%)
  • 28% more emissions than all the cars, buses, planes, ships, trucks, trains in the world (transportation share: 14%)
  • 12.5% more emissions than every factory in the world (industrial share: 16%)

Particularly damaging, are the relatively higher shares of certain extremely dangerous greenhouse gases with a much higher global warming potential (GWP) than Co2. This includes:

Livestock's share of particularly dangerous greenhouse gas emissions1

  • 37% of anthroprogenic methane (23x GWP of Co2) – mostly through enteric fermentation by ruminants
  • 69% of anthroprogenic nitrous oxide (296x GWP of Co2) – primarily through manure
  • 64% of anthroprogenic ammonia emissions – which contribute significant to acid rain and the acidification of ecosystems.

In a rapidly warming world, can society afford a sector (i.e. livestock) that contributes less than 2% of global GDP but 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions?

Carbon emissions & diet

While it is known that animal products have a much higher carbon foodprint than plant based products, the actual extent of the difference is something which would surprise most people. The chart below provides a glimpse into the large reductions in emissions society can achieve, by simply reducing consumption of meat and dairy products in favor of plant based foods

Data source: Clean Metrics
  1. UN FAO, Livestocks Long Shadow