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Climate crisis: Animal farming producing greater total emissions in EU than all cars and vans combined, analysis finds

‘Farm animals won’t stop farting and burping – the only way to cut emissions is to cut their numbers’

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 23 September 2020 17:18 BST
Dairy is the greatest contributor to emissions from livestock in the EU
Dairy is the greatest contributor to emissions from livestock in the EU (Getty)

The rearing of livestock for meat and dairy is producing total emissions greater than all of the cars and vans on the road in the EU and the situation is getting worse, analysis by Greenpeace has found.

Greenhouse gas emissions from animal farming in the EU account for 17 per cent of the bloc’s emissions, while cars and vans are responsible for 14.5 per cent of the bloc’s CO2 emissions.

Between 2007 and 2018 yearly emissions from animal farming rose by 6 per cent, which was the equivalent of adding 8.4 million cars to European roads, and had the same climate impact three million flights around the circumference of the earth, Greenpeace said.

The organisation’s calculations are based on UN Food and Agriculture Organisation data alongside other peer-reviewed scientific research. The figures showed that animals on European farms emit the equivalent of 502 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

But when indirect greenhouse gas emissions were added, such as those from animal feed production, land use, deforestation and other land-use change, the total annual emissions attributable to European animal farming are the equivalent of 704 million tonnes of CO2.

The scale of the problem means the EU currently cannot reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement, and avoid the worst impacts of climate breakdown unless there is a reduction in the number of farm animals, Greenpeace said.

Marco Contiero, Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director, said: “European leaders have danced around the climate impact of animal farming for too long.

“Science is clear, the numbers as well: we can’t avoid the worst of climate breakdown if politicians keep defending industrial production of meat and dairy.

“Farm animals won’t stop farting and burping – the only way to cut emissions at the levels needed is to cut their numbers.”

Greenpeace said “less and better animal farming is crucial in the fight against climate breakdown”, and the organisation is calling on the EU to abandon subsidies for industrial animal farming and to instead use public money to support reductions in the amount of animals farmed.

If there was a 50 per cent reduction in livestock farming, the analysis found it would save the equivalent of 250 million tonnes of CO2 a year – roughly equivalent to the combined emissions from all sectors of the 11 lowest-emitting EU countries.

The environmental organisation noted the average European eats 60 per cent more meat, eggs and dairy than dietary guidelines recommend.

Dairy was the greatest contributor to emissions from livestock farming in the EU in 2018, followed by pork, beef, poultry, eggs, sheep and goats, the research revealed.

UK government figures indicate farming in the UK is responsible for 10 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, however, this figure does not take into account the impact of the production of animal feeds, fertilisers and type of land usage required by farmers.

A spokesperson for the UK’s National Farmers’ Union said: “According to government figures, farming in the UK is directly responsible for 10 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions; transport and energy are 27 per cent and 24 per cent respectively.”

“British farmers are already leading the way in climate-friendly red meat and dairy and we have an ambition to become net zero by 2040. If we are to achieve this, we must reduce all our greenhouse gas emissions. A focus on improving productivity is key here, alongside maintaining and improving our storage of carbon in grassland and producing more renewable energy.”

Rearing fewer animals is also regarded as a major step in countering the threat of emergent diseases and potential pandemics. Many contagious diseases which pose significant risk to humans have been kick-started by contact with farm animals.

“Industrial animal farming has a well-recognised role in the emergence and spread of viral infections similar to Covid-19”, Greenpeace said.

“An estimated 73 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, and livestock species transmit an extraordinary number of viruses, like coronaviruses and influenza viruses, to humans.”

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