More proof cattle emissions won’t destroy the planet

Beef Central, 07/06/2018

A NEW paper published this week suggests long-lived atmospheric pollutants like carbon dioxide that build up over centuries need to be treated differently in climate change policies to short-lived pollutants like methane, which disappear within a few years.

“Current climate change policy suggests a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with emissions,” says Professor Dave Frame, head of the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington.

“But there are two distinct types of emissions, and to properly address climate change and create fair and accurate climate change policy we must treat these two groups differently.”

“We don’t actually need to give up eating meat or dairy to stabilise global temperatures,” says Professor Myles Allen from the University of Oxford, who led the study.

“We just need to stop increasing emissions from these sources. But we do need to give up dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate policies could be designed to reflect this.”

The scientists say their study has outlined a better way to think about how methane and other gases contribute to greenhouse gas emissions budgets, and is an important step towards evaluating the warming from methane emissions when developing strategies to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Long-lived pollutants, like carbon dioxide, persist in the atmosphere, building up over centuries. The CO2created by burning coal in the 18th century is still affecting the climate today.” says Dr Michelle Cain from the Oxford Martin Programme on Climate Pollutants.

“Short-lived pollutants, like methane, disappear within a few years. Their effect on the climate is important, but very different from that of CO2: yet current policies treat them all as ‘equivalent’”.

The research, which appears in the journal Nature Climate and Athmospheric Science, demonstrates a method of defining equivalence between the different emissions, which takes into account the lifetime effects. This would be particularly relevant to industries like agriculture, which contribute a large proportion of greenhouse gas emissions using traditional methods in some countries, for example New Zealand.

“We don’t actually need to give up eating meat to stabilise global temperatures,” says Professor Myles Allen who led the study (meat production is a major source of methane). “We just need to stop increasing our collective meat consumption. But we do need to give up dumping CO2 into the atmosphere. Every tonne of CO2 emitted is equivalent to a permanent increase in the methane emission rate. Climate policies could be designed to reflect this.”

“Under current policies, industries that produce methane are managed as though that methane has a permanently worsening effect on the climate,” says Professor Frame. “But this is not the case. Implementing a policy that better reflects the actual impact of different pollutants on global temperatures would give agriculture a fair and reasonable way to manage their emissions and reduce their impact on the environment.”

“Implementing a policy like this would show New Zealand to be leaders and innovators in climate change policy,” says Professor Allen. “Implemented successfully, it could also completely stop New Zealand’s contribution to global warming.”

The work, which is a collaboration between researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, the Universities of Oxford and Reading, and the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway (CICERO), shows a better way to think about how methane might fit into carbon budgets.

Sources: University of Oxford, Victoria University of Wellington.  The paper is freely available at: Allen, M. R., Shine, K. P., Fuglestvedt, J. S., Millar, R. J., Cain, M., Frame, D. J., & Macey, A. H. (2018). A solution to the misrepresentations of CO2-equivalent emissions of short-lived climate pollutants under ambitious mitigation. Npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, 1(1), 16.





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  1. Tom Reid., 15/06/2018

    It’s always struck me as odd that ruminants grazing in well managed grasslands are condidered to be a net emitter of GHGs. Fact is that as long as they aren’t being fed products that require fossil fuels in their production, then the gases produced through metabolic processes are just part of a cycle of consumption and growth in grasslands. Unless the animals are eating coal, they can’t be emitting more than what’s already cycling through the system. Of course the main caveat to this is that if the grazing management is poor then and soil carbon is being lost then this doesn’t hold true…. It’s also obvious that systems that rely on heavy supplementation are net emitters.

  2. Jim McGregor, 09/06/2018

    At last, some common sense logic on this issue. Too many scientists for too long have paid lip service to the current policy on methane emissions. We need to focus on the importance of grasslands, their management and ecology, and the critical role of grazing animals in grassland health. Take the ruminant out and these ecosystems would disintegrate with devastating consequences.

  3. Albrecht Glatzle, 09/06/2018

    Ruminants and domestic livetsock never have been a problem for the climate but rather due to other reason than those indicated by the authors. Please google: Albrecht Glatzle Questioning FAO conclusions….. and: Albrecht Glatzle Severe Methodological deficiencies….

  4. Paul D. Butler, 08/06/2018

    Once you accept the idea that beef production is not sustainable or that you need to prove beef production sustainability under some entities guidelines…….you have lost the battle.

    Nature and natural processes have been proven to be sustainable for tens of thousands of years………..why should we accept that certain men have decided otherwise? That arrogance is unbelievable.

  5. Paul Troja, 07/06/2018

    we should stop and understand that the environment is under pressure because of human population and not other species and to suggest that we remove offending species due to climate change is missing the point. reduce and or manage the global population and you will control climate change.

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