International Conference Livestock and Global Climate Change, Hammamet, Tunisia, May 2008

Mitigating climate change: the role of domestic livestock

M. Gilla1 c1, P. Smitha2 and J. M. Wilkinsona3

a1 Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability, School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, 23 St Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, United Kingdom

a2 Institute of Biological & Environmental Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Cruickshank Building, St Machar Drive, Aberdeen, AB24 3UU, United Kingdom

a3 School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, Leics LE12 5RD, United Kingdom


Livestock contribute directly (i.e. as methane and nitrous oxide (N2O)) to about 9% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and around 3% of UK emissions. If all parts of the livestock production lifecycle are included (fossil fuels used to produce mineral fertilizers used in feed production and N2O emissions from fertilizer use; methane release from the breakdown of fertilizers and from animal manure; land-use changes for feed production and for grazing; land degradation; fossil fuel use during feed and animal production; fossil fuel use in production and transport of processed and refrigerated animal products), livestock are estimated to account for 18% of global anthropogenic emissions, but less than 8% in the UK. In terms of GHG emissions per unit of livestock product, monogastric livestock are more efficient than ruminants; thus in the UK, while sheep and cattle accounted for 32% of meat production in 2006, they accounted for 48% of GHG emissions associated with meat production. More efficient management of grazing lands and of manure can have a direct impact in decreasing emissions. Improving efficiency of livestock production through better breeding, health interventions or improving fertility can also decrease GHG emissions through decreasing the number of livestock required per unit product. Increasing the energy density of the diet has a dual effect, decreasing both direct emissions and the numbers of livestock per unit product, but, as the demands for food increase in response to increasing human population and a better diet in some developing countries, there is increasing competition for land for food v. energy-dense feed crops. Recalculating efficiencies of energy and protein production on the basis of human-edible food produced per unit of human-edible feed consumed gave higher efficiencies for ruminants than for monogastric animals. The policy community thus have difficult decisions to make in balancing the negative contribution of livestock to the environment against the positive benefit in terms of food security. The animal science community have a responsibility to provide an evidence base which is objective and holistic with respect to these two competing challenges.

(Received March 02 2009)

(Accepted March 24 2009)

(Online publication May 22 2009)


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