Abstract

The livestock sector supports about 1.3 billion producers and retailers, and contributes 40–50% of agricultural GDP. We estimated that between 1995 and 2005, the livestock sector was responsible for greenhouse gas emissions of 5.6–7.5 GtCO2e yr−1. Livestock accounts for up to half of the technical mitigation potential of the agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors, through management options that sustainably intensify livestock production, promote carbon sequestration in rangelands and reduce emissions from manures, and through reductions in the demand for livestock products. The economic potential of these management alternatives is less than 10% of what is technically possible because of adoption constraints, costs and numerous trade-offs. The mitigation potential of reductions in livestock product consumption is large, but their economic potential is unknown at present. More research and investment are needed to increase the affordability and adoption of mitigation practices, to moderate consumption of livestock products where appropriate, and to avoid negative impacts on livelihoods, economic activities and the environment.

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Acknowledgements

This paper constitutes an output of the Belmont Forum/FACCE-JPI funded DEVIL project (NE/M021327/1). Financial support from the CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the EU-FP7 AnimalChange project is also recognized. P.K.T. acknowledges the support of a CSIRO McMaster Research Fellowship.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), 306 Carmody Road, St Lucia, Queensland 4067, Australia

    • Mario Herrero
    • , Benjamin Henderson
    • , Philip K. Thornton
    •  & Stefan Wirsenius
  2. Ecosystems Services and Management Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, A–2361 Laxenburg, Austria

    • Petr Havlík
    •  & Hugo Valin
  3. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), ILRI, PO Box 30709, Nairobi 00100, Kenya

    • Philip K. Thornton
  4. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1499, USA

    • Richard T. Conant
  5. Scottish Food Security Alliance—Crops, Institute of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen, 23 St Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK

    • Pete Smith
    •  & Margaret Gill
  6. Department of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, SE-41296 Gothenburg, Sweden

    • Stefan Wirsenius
  7. Department of Animal Science, Pennsylvania State University, 324 Henning Building, University Park, Pennsylvanie 16802, USA

    • Alexander N. Hristov
  8. Animal Production and Health Division, FAO, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy

    • Pierre Gerber
  9. Animal Production Systems Group, Wageningen University, PO Box 338, 6700 AH Wageningen, the Netherlands

    • Pierre Gerber
  10. Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU) Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Kreuzeckbahnstr. 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

    • Klaus Butterbach-Bahl
  11. International Livestock Research Institute, Old Naivasha Road, Nairobi 00100, Kenya

    • Klaus Butterbach-Bahl
  12. University of Oxford, Oxford Martin School, Oxford OX13QY, UK

    • Tara Garnett
  13. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Bilthoven 3720 AH, The Netherlands

    • Elke Stehfest

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Contributions

M.H. conceived the study and prepared the manuscript. All authors analysed data and contributed to the writing and editing of the manuscript.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mario Herrero.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2925

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