Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Commentary
  • Published:

Ruminants, climate change and climate policy

Greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant meat production are significant. Reductions in global ruminant numbers could make a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation goals and yield important social and environmental co-benefits.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Compound- and sector-specific emissions of greenhouse gases, associated radiative forcing and global ruminant numbers over the past 50 years.
Figure 2: Average carbon equivalent footprint of protein-rich solid foods per kilogram of product from a global meta-analysis of life-cycle assessment studies.


  1. Montzka, S. A., Dlugokencky, E. J. & Butler, J. H. Nature 476, 43–50 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. FAOSTAT (FAO, accessed 12 August 2013);

  3. Gerber, P. J. et al. Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock — A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities (FAO, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Steinfeld, H. et al. Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (FAO, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Smith, P. et al. Glob. Change Biol. 19, 2285–2302 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. McAlpine, C. A., Etter, A., Fearnside, P. M., Seabrook, L. & Lawrence, W. F. Glob. Environ. Change. 19, 21–33 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Beschta, R. L. et al. Environ. Manage. 51, 474–491 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. American Dietetic Association J. Am. Dietetic Assoc. 109, 1266–1282 (2009).

  9. Fraser, G. E. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 89 (supplement), 1607S–1612S (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Wirsenius, S., Hedenus, F. & Mohlin, K. Climatic Change 108, 159–184 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Schmidinger, K. & Stehfest, E. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 7, 962–972 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Popp, A. et al. Glob. Environ. Change 20, 451–462 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 


  14. Views on Land Use, Land-use Change and Forestry Issues Referred to in Decision 2/CMP.7, Paragraphs 5-7. Submissions from Parties and Admitted Observer Organizations 12–18 (SBSTA, UNFCCC, 2013);

  15. Lenton, T. M. Ambio 41, 10–22 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Whiteman, G., Hope, C. & Wadhams, P. Nature 499, 401–403 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Nijdam, D., Rood, T. & Westhoek, H. Food Policy 37, 760–770 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank R. Lamplugh, B. Kauffman, E. Stehfest and R. Comforto for comments on an early draft of this paper. W.R. was an Oregon State University L.L. Stewart faculty scholar during this project. P.S. is a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award holder. H.H. gratefully acknowledges research funding from EU-FP7 (Volante, grant no. 265104) and the Austrian Science Funds (project no. P20812-G11). S.A.M. acknowledges the support of the NOAA's Climate Program Office and its Atmospheric Chemistry, Carbon Cycle and Climate Program. C.M. is supported by the Australian Research Council (FT100100338). D.B. thanks the Climate and Land Use Alliance for its support of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to William J. Ripple.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ripple, W., Smith, P., Haberl, H. et al. Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. Nature Clim Change 4, 2–5 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing