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Increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil if decoupled from deforestation

Abstract

Recent debate about agricultural greenhouse gas emissions mitigation highlights trade-offs inherent in the way we produce and consume food, with increasing scrutiny on emissions-intensive livestock products1,2,3. Although most research has focused on mitigation through improved productivity4,5, systemic interactions resulting from reduced beef production at the regional level are still unexplored. A detailed optimization model of beef production encompassing pasture degradation and recovery processes, animal and deforestation emissions, soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and upstream life-cycle inventory was developed and parameterized for the Brazilian Cerrado. Economic return was maximized considering two alternative scenarios: decoupled livestock–deforestation (DLD), assuming baseline deforestation rates controlled by effective policy; and coupled livestock–deforestation (CLD), where shifting beef demand alters deforestation rates. In DLD, reduced consumption actually leads to less productive beef systems, associated with higher emissions intensities and total emissions, whereas increased production leads to more efficient systems with boosted SOC stocks, reducing both per kilogram and total emissions. Under CLD, increased production leads to 60% higher emissions than in DLD. The results indicate the extent to which deforestation control contributes to sustainable intensification in Cerrado beef systems, and how alternative life-cycle analytical approaches result in significantly different emission estimates.

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Figure 1: Brazilian central Cerrado (shaded).
Figure 2: Demand scenarios and sensitivity analysis.
Figure 3: Long-term GHG emissions analysis for the demand scenarios.
Figure 4: Emissions intensity analysis.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge financial support from the EU FP7 project AnimalChange under the grant agreement no. 266018. R.d.O.S. acknowledges the CAPES Foundation for the scholarship no. 10180/13-3. D.M. acknowledges financial support from the Scottish Government Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services division through ClimatexChange (http://www.climatexchange.org.uk).

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Authors

Contributions

R.d.O.S., L.G.B. and D.M. designed the study and wrote the paper, R.d.O.S. and L.G.B. developed the mathematical model, R.d.O.S. implemented the model and generated the results, J.A.J.H. contributed to the model development and mathematical solutions, M.F.M. provided the LCA data, T.Z.A. provided the bioeconomic data, and F.A.F. performed the simulations with the CENTURY model.

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Correspondence to R. de Oliveira Silva.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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de Oliveira Silva, R., Barioni, L., Hall, J. et al. Increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil if decoupled from deforestation. Nature Clim Change 6, 493–497 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2916

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