August 23, 2016   •   News

Improved greenhouse gas inventories for livestock essential to meet Paris Climate Agreement

Researchers show how improved greenhouse gas inventories for the livestock sector meet international requirements, support climate change and productivity goals and help broaden countries’ policy options.


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WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND // BURLINGTON, USA (23 August 2016) – Scientists say that using advanced greenhouse gas inventory and accounting methods to monitor, verify and report on emissions will be necessary for livestock to demonstrate that it is contributing effectively to the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Scientists from the Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) argue in a newly released brochure that more accurate and robust information on greenhouse emissions and productivity from livestock, captured through an advanced inventory system, will be essential if the sector is to contribute effectively to climate and development outcomes.

“61 nations included mitigation in the livestock sector in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015,” Lini Wollenberg, leader of the CCAFS Low Emissions Development research program based at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, said. “They need advanced greenhouse gas inventories to report on changes in emissions and the reductions in emissions intensity that result from more productive and efficient livestock systems.”

Simple inventory methods (called Tier 1) use livestock numbers multiplied by a constant emission factor per animal, meaning that the only way to reduce emissions from livestock is to reduce animal numbers – not plausible for countries concerned with food security and rural development. Researchers point out that livestock development and climate change outcomes can support each other: more productive and efficient farm systems generally produce food at much lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product.

The brochure draws on a global analysis demonstrating that doubling the milk production of low-yielding dairy systems, from 1,500 to 3,000 litres per cow per year, could roughly halve the greenhouse gas emissions per litre of milk from those systems. However, if a country’s livestock greenhouse gas inventory does not use advanced methods (called Tier 2), then the impact of such productivity gains is missed.

Advanced inventories allow countries to understand the impact of different productivity measures on emissions. For example, reductions in emissions intensity may be achieved through (see e.g. here and here):

  • Improved digestibility of feeds
  • Increased pregnancy rates for mature breeding cows
  • Increased weight gains in finishing animals.

Such productivity measures may support rural economic development, form the basis of a climate change mitigation plan to be submitted to the UNFCCC, or help qualify a country for climate finance.

Uruguay, for example, used its advanced greenhouse gas inventory in the livestock sector to commit to reducing emissions intensity in livestock (i.e. emissions per kg of meat) by 31-46% by 2030 from base year 1990. The inventory also allows Uruguay to incorporate outcomes from productivity improvements into its domestic policies and use them to demonstrate progress towards its INDC.

“Many countries know that a Tier 2 inventory would be incredibly helpful for them, but they are deterred by the perceived complexity and the resources required. An inventory based on Tier 2 methods is by its nature more detailed than the simple Tier 1 methods that most countries start out with, but it does not have to be much more complicated,” explained Harry Clark, Co-chair of the GRA’s Livestock Research Group and Director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

“Countries need guidance and support on how to set up an inventory that is credible and defensible but does not place unrealistic demands on their data sources,” Clark said.


 “Livestock development and climate change: The benefits of advanced greenhouse gas inventorieswas first published by the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security on 23 August 2016.  It is available online at: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/76520


Further reading:

Livestock Research Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA): www.globalresearchalliance.org/research/livestock

Emissions data, greenhouse gas emissions measurement methods, and tools, for agriculture: www.samples.ccafs.cgiar.org

Low emissions development in agriculture: quantification, decision-making and implementation: https://ccafs.cgiar.org/themes/low-emissions-agriculture

The Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases brings countries together to find ways to grow more food without growing greenhouse gas emissions. Its Livestock Research Group (LRG) is focused on reducing the emissions intensity of livestock production systems and increasing the quantity of carbon stored in soils supporting those systems. The LRG works with scientists, farmers and farm advisors, industry and policy makers to research mitigation options, share knowledge and experiences and help strengthen the resilience of livestock farming.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and trade-offs between climate change, agriculture and food security. The University of Vermont hosts research focusing on low emissions agriculture. Research is carried out with support from CGIAR Fund Donors and through bilateral funding agreements. For details please visit https://ccafs.cgiar.org/donors.

The New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGRC) coordinates research and development into agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation solutions in New Zealand. The NZAGRC’s focus is to provide knowledge, technologies and practices that grow agriculture’s ability to create wealth for New Zealand in a carbon-constrained world. The NZAGRC works in partnership with nine New Zealand organisations to deliver practical on-farm solutions to mitigate methane, nitrous oxide and increase understanding and stability of soil carbon stocks.