Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector: The role of the dairy sector in a low-carbon future
This report (PDF) by the FAO is an attempt to understand the contribution of the dairy sector to global emissions between 2005 and 2015 as a further step towards addressing the challenge of climate change and defining a low-carbon pathway for the sector. The challenge for the dairy sector is how to reduce environmental impacts while continuing to meet society’s needs. With demand for high-quality animal sourced protein increasing globally, the dairy sector contributes to global food security and poverty reduction. It is essential that sector growth is sustainable in terms of the environment, public and animal health and welfare, development, poverty alleviation and social progress. To limit temperature rise, the dairy sector must reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, for which there are many opportunities within the sector already. This study shows that the sector’s GHG emissions have increased by 18 percent between 2005 and 2015 because overall milk production has grown substantially by 30 percent. While total emissions have increased, dairy farming has become more efficient resulting in declining emission intensities per unit of product. There is an urgent need to accelerate and intensify the sector’s response to avoid climate tipping points. Many mitigation options are already available and their adoption can be accelerated. The dairy industry will need to also consider how these residual emissions will be offset, since some residual emissions will remain. Achieving substantial net reductions in GHG emissions from the dairy sector requires action in three areas; 1) improving efficiencies; 2) capturing and sequestering carbon; and 3) better linking dairy production to the circular bio-economy. This results in the reduction of emission intensity and absolute emissions from dairy production. Research, policies, regulations, infrastructure, and incentives will all be required to systematically support low-carbon choices. Investment in data gathering and further in-depth analysis will help identify and refine mitigation options.