Rhein on Energy and Climate

The most recent FAO report on the “State of Food and Agriculture” contains a comprehensive analysis of the profound changes that have taken place in the livestock sector during the past 30 years. These transformations have outpaced the capacity of governments and societies to provide the necessary policy and regulatory framework to ensure an appropriate balance between private and public goods, in particular concerning the rising pressure on the ecological system.

The livestock sector is one of the biggest emitters of man-made green house gases. Directly and indirectly the 4 billion heads of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs on earth emit 7 billion tons of green house gases annually, in particular methane, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide. Deforestation for creating additional grazing areas, manure management and enteric fermentation are the three main causes of the green house gas emissions caused by the livestock sector.

In view of its weight in the global emission balance it is no longer possible to ignore livestock in the fight against climate change.

The FAO report calls upon governments to correct the externalities through appropriate regulations and sees a rising momentum for taxation. It insists in particular on eliminating all subsidies that promote overgrazing, deforestation and overuse of water.

These are courageous recommendations, however cautiously formulated.

They will need to be followed up by specific proposals to major live stock producing countries like Brazil, Argentina, Australia or USA for reducing their green house gas emissions from livestock.

The report should also be a reminder to all meat consumers. Global per capita meat consumption has grown from 30 kg in 1980 to 41 kg in 2005, with the USA and Brazil at the top with 80 kg and vegetarian India at the bottom with less than 5 kg. They should be made aware that a diet heavily relying on red meat is as bad for the climate as high emission cars!

Brussels 21.02.10 Eberhard Rhein

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