Livestock cause 14.5% of global emissions

Article by Isabel Key and Mina Frost.

What do cows, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits have in common? They’re all livestock animals raised for human use and consumption [9]. It’s estimated that the livestock sector is responsible for about 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions every year [1].

Production of beef is the main culprit, contributing 41% of all emissions from the livestock sector [1]. Cow’s milk is the next biggest contributor, with 20% of livestock emissions [1]. Most of the emissions from beef and cow’s milk production come from producing feed for the animals, and from ‘enteric fermentation’, otherwise known as cow burps and farts [1,4]!

Raising livestock and their food uses about 80% of farmland in the world, but it provides only about 20% of the calories that people eat [3]. We now produce over 4 times as much meat as we did 50 years ago [2]. If production continues to increase, we will have to keep cutting down forests in order to have enough space for all the livestock [5].

The disproportionate contribution of livestock to climate change and deforestation compared to other sources of food is one of the reasons why so many people are trying ‘Veganuary’ this January, cutting out all animal products from their diet for at least a month [8,10]. The Veganuary non-profit organisation estimates that about 250,000 people pledged to be vegan in January 2019 [8]. But in order to hugely reduce your carbon footprint and have a positive effect on the planet, you don’t need to go fully vegan – even just cutting down on meat is a great step forward [6,7]!

We’ll be explaining in more detail why meat is such a big problem for the planet in the next few posts!


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