Knowledge for better food systems

Net zero carbon and UK livestock

This report from Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock, a UK alliance of livestock researchers, quantifies emissions from UK livestock production and assesses what it would take for the sector to align with the UK’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

To achieve the goal of net zero emissions in the UK by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change has recommended a 64% reduction in emissions from agriculture and land-use. A separate target for livestock has not been set, but this report assumes that a 64% reduction is appropriate.

In 2018, according to the report, the digestive processes of livestock were responsible for almost half of emissions from the UK agricultural sector. Other agricultural emissions - from both livestock and crop production - come from application of nitrogen fertilisers and animal manures and from the import of feedstuffs such as soy.

The main options identified by the report for mitigating emissions from UK livestock are:

  1. Improving efficiency in management of fertilisers, feeds and manure.
  2. Using novel and alternative feeds to reduce both methane emissions from digestion and deforestation from producing the feeds.
  3. Reducing use of inorganic nitrogen fertiliser.
  4. Smart technology and precision livestock farming.
  5. Carbon sequestration through hedgerows, land set aside for forestry, etc.
  6. Addressing sustainability challenges holistically, to manage trade-offs.
  7. Enhanced calculation methods to account for the impacts of short-lived greenhouse gases (see the Foodsource building blocks Agricultural methane and its role as a greenhouse gas and Methane and the sustainability of ruminant livestock).
  8. Improved reporting of emissions and uncertainties.

The report notes that “the vast majority of agri-food greenhouse gas emissions experts agree that there is also a timely requirement to reduce livestock product intake (in other words, avoid over-consumption) in individuals/countries where it is currently high”. It concludes that the UK’s livestock sector alone cannot meet the emissions reduction target for UK agriculture and that other agriculture and land use sectors will also have to contribute.

Read the full report, Net zero carbon & UK livestock, here (PDF link). See also the Foodsource building block Methane and the sustainability of ruminant livestock.

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