Knowledge for better food systems

Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector

This report from Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the Global Dairy Platform shows the global dairy sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and outlines the measures the sector could take to contribute to climate change mitigation.

The Global Dairy Platform is an organisation that aims to “encourage the appropriate intake of nutrient-rich dairy foods and demonstrate the sector’s role in sustainable agriculture”.

According to the report, while overall milk production grew by 30% between 2005 and 2015, the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 18% in the same time period, meaning that improvements in efficiency (expressed as emissions per unit of production) were outweighed by the absolute increase in production.

The report calls for both further improvements in emissions intensity (i.e. emissions per kg of milk) and an absolute reduction in emissions from the dairy sector. The report suggests that overall emissions reductions could come from enhanced carbon sequestration within soils and by using circular economy principles to recover resources from waste streams (e.g. using anaerobic digestion).

The report does not discuss changing consumption levels of dairy.

For reactions to the report, see FAO and Global Dairy Platform publish dairy sector climate change report by Dairy Reporter.

Read the full report, Climate change and the global dairy cattle sector, here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource resource What are the environmental issues associated with milk and dairy? and the FCRN report Grazed and Confused?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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