Dairy industry says it is curbing greenhouse gas emissions through better efficiency

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

As a result of increased global output, absolute emissions rose by 18% globally, but the FAO notes that without efficiency improvements in the sector, total emissions from dairy would have increased by almost 38%.
As a result of increased global output, absolute emissions rose by 18% globally, but the FAO notes that without efficiency improvements in the sector, total emissions from dairy would have increased by almost 38%.

Related tags: Greenhouse gas emissions, Dairy, Nutrition, Milk

New analysis from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) demonstrates a decrease in dairy emissions intensity. The study was commissioned by the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF).

The findings were presented in Poland at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) during an event hosted by the Dairy Sustainability Framework and the Global Dairy Platform (GDP).

Emissions rise

The analysis calculates GHG emissions from the dairy sector over a ten-year period (2005-2015) and reports reductions in all regions of the world. On average, GHG emitted in the production of milk has decreased in ‘emissions intensity’ (emissions per unit of product) by almost 11% from 2.8 to 2.5kg CO2​ equivalents per kg of product produced.

Over the same time period, global dairy production has grown by 30%. This has been achieved through increasing milk yields and numbers of cows. As a result of increased global output, absolute emissions rose by 18% globally. Importantly, the FAO notes that without the efficiency improvements made by the sector, total emissions from dairy would have increased by almost 38%.

The largest reductions in emission intensity occurred in low and-middle-income countries with traditionally low productivity. While developed dairy geographies also reduced the intensity of emissions, the FAO noted that the percentage improvement was not as substantial as these systems were already operating at much lower rates.

Martial Bernoux, with FAO’s Climate and Environment Division, said, “The analysis quantifies the progress of the sector in improving the efficiency of production while increasing output by 30% over the period 2005-2015. The report also recognizes there is more for the sector to do to play their part in mitigating climate change.

“We encourage the dairy sector to build on the progress to date, by using this analysis and others like it to identify and implement appropriate and sustainable solutions that provide nutritious food for the growing world population.”

Addressing climate change

Robin Mbae, deputy director of livestock production, State Department of Livestock, Kenya, underlined the important role of the dairy sector in addressing climate change and other broader goals.

“The Kenyan government is committed to meeting its climate change commitments which seek to reduce 30% of Kenya’s GHG emissions by 2030,”​ Mbae said.

“As such, Kenya is moving ahead with the development of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) for its dairy sector because we recognize that investing in productivity improvements in smallholder dairy systems is an efficient way to simultaneously balance our national development priorities and climate change commitments.”

Dairy ‘committed to GHG reduction’

Donald Moore, executive director of the GDP and chairman of the DSF, said, “More than 6bn people around the world regularly consume milk and dairy foods as an affordable, accessible, nutrient rich food, supplying energy and significant amounts of high-quality protein and micronutrients.

“Analysis from independent authorities such as the UN FAO, provide important guidance for the sector in its efforts to responsibly produce high quality nutrition in ways that respect the environment, the farmers that produce it and the animals it comes from. The dairy sector recognizes the responsibility it has to continuously improve its performance. We are on the right track, but there is still more to do and the importance of timely, quality data to help track and manage performance cannot be under estimated.

“The work of initiatives such as the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF), established in 2013 as the vehicle for improving and quantifying the sectors sustainability performance, demonstrates that dairy is committed to continuously seeking ways to reduce GHG emissions from farms and businesses by all economically viable means, regardless of where they are operating or their stage of sustainability development.”

Related topics: Regulation & Safety, Sustainability

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1 comment

Dairy is not sustainable in a climate change world

Posted by Stu,

Let's forget for a second the continuing environmental damage caused by the dairy and beef industries. What this story has really said is that there has also been extensive growth of GHG emissions in a global dairy industry that is one of the primary causes of climate change. In other words dairy is expanding. That's like cheering that coal use is growing.

It also says that all the improvements (a slower rate of overall GHG growth) have occurred in less developed markets. Left unsaid is that the developed countries' modern dairy industries are unable to greatly reduce their GHG emissions - which tells us that there are no big improvements to come in dairy. Because if there were, the developed countries' dairy industry would have done them.

Bottom line to the dairy industry is this: don't whitewash yourselves with reports noting little bits of improvement. You continue to be a major (and growing!) source of the GHG methane, which is 25X more powerful than CO2 in trapping heat in the atmosphere. Soon, very soon, the public will get very upset at the causes of climate change and when they realize that dairy cows and beef cattle are a main one of those, they will be boycotting or greatly reducing their consumption of milk, cheese, whey protein, sodium caseinate, yogurt and beef (and other meats) and the foods and beverage drinks that contain these.

What the dairy industry needs to do is to implement a voluntary methane tax to at least demonstrate that you care about being part of the solution. Or, you can keep burying your head in the sand and wait for the inevitable backlash that is only a year or two away. Dairy consumption is already dropping but the big backlash is still to come.

As for product developers, incorporating dairy ingredients in your products could be extremely risky. Because once clean-label conscious consumers start looking on the label and see milk, whey protein, sodium caseinate, etc. they're going to choose something else. You need to get more clean label now, while you still can. And before a methane tax gets imposed and raises your costs.

Product developers and the dairy/beef industry don't have much time so they need to get started now on making substantive changes in how they operate. Despite the sunny nature of this report, in the climate change world dairy clearly is a sunset industry.

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