FAO calculates dairy sector contribution to global emissions

By Guy Montague-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Carbon dioxide Fao

The dairy sector as a whole is responsible for 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the vast majority coming from production, according to a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report.

The United Nations (UN) body sought to uncover the total emissions associated with the production, processing, and transportation of milk products as well as the emissions related to meat produced from animals coming from the dairy system.


Using 2007 data, the FAO found that this figure was 1 969m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, a standard measure for comparing emissions of different GHGs.

In fact, carbon dioxide is only responsible for a small proportion of the total, especially in developed nations, with methane accounting for 52 percent of the GHG emissions.

The headline 1 969m CO2 equivalent figure translates to 4 per cent of global emissions but when taking meat production from the equation and focusing just on emissions related directly to milk products, the figure was 1 328m tonnes or 2.7 per cent of global emissions.

Supply chain

Assessing the contribution of different stages in the supply chain, the FAO report said cradle-to-farm gate emissions contribute to, on average, 93 percent of total dairy GHG emissions.

This figure is lower in industrialized countries, where the contribution of on-farm activities is between 78 and 83 per cent of total life cycle emissions.

The International Dairy Foundation (IDF) welcomed the report saying it provides a robust benchmark for our future targeted actions.

Christian Robert, IDF Director General, said: “We will use this study as a significant contribution to existing knowledge and a strong incentive to achieve the objectives set out.

“We look forward to the wider study carried out by FAO and aiming at identifying low carbon development pathways for the livestock dairy sector.”

The FAO dairy assessment is part of an ongoing programme to analyse and recommend options for climate change mitigation. To view the full report click here​. The next step is to use a similar approach to quantify GHG emissions associated with other major livestock species, including buffalo, poultry, small ruminants and pigs. A final report will be published in 2011.

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