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Have you ever wondered whether cattle rearing or car driving contributes more to the increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus exacerbating global warming? Look no further than today’s Viz of the Day, which provides insights on this issue courtesy of a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The data clearly indicates that the modern livestock sector contributes more significantly to global warming than the whole of the transport sector. Among livestock species, cattle are responsible for nearly 65 percent of GHG emissions, with a single cow, steer, or bull producing more carbon dioxide (CO2) per year than a Ferrari*.

  • According to the FAO, total emissions of greenhouse gases from livestock sector were about 6.53 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year for the 2005 reference period**. This represents 15.5% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions of roughly 42 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent for the same period. By comparison, the annual GHG emissions from the transport sector are only about 6.45 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. 
  • Carbon dioxide, however, represents the smallest element of livestock GHG emissions and is far less than the contribution from nitrous oxide (N2O) from manure to GHGs. Nitrous oxide has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2 and constitutes 30% of livestock GHG emissions and 61% of global human-related nitrous oxide.

Ensuring future food security and human livelihood while also protecting the Earth requires a transition towards a more sustainable livestock sector. Reducing GHG emissions supports this transition, and yet current food consumption and marketing trends directly work against efforts to decrease the demand for cattle and other livestock rearing. 

  • People are consuming more and more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production has more than doubled during the last 30 years from 145.3 million tonnes in 1983 to 310.4 million tonnes in 2013 and is expected to further rise to 355 million tonnes by 2024. Production of milk increased by 50 percent during the same period and is going to rise by 19% during the next 11 years.
  • Popular trends to support healthier eating and farming practices favor the use of manure as organic fertilizer, thus contributing to increasing N2O emissions.

*On average, every kilogram (kg) of cattle meat generates 12 kgs of CO2 per year. The weight of average adult cow is about 700 kgs. So, each cow produces 12*700 or around 8,400 kgs of CO2 per year. At the same time, the average Ferrari emits 311 grams of CO2 per kilometre (km). Supposing that this Ferrari travels 20,000 km per year, the annual CO2 emissions from it would be 20,000*0.3 or around 6,000 kgs.

**Not including emissions from "Other poultry", accounting for 72 million tonnes CO2-eq and emissions allocated to fiber production (wool), draught power and manure use fuel, which accounts for 400 million tonnes CO2-eq. Including these components increases total GHG emissions from livestock to 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2-eq.

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