Beef and climate change



Climate impact of beef: an analysis considering multiple time scales and production methods without use of global warming potentials

R T Pierrehumbert1 and G Eshel2 Published 4 August 2015 • © 2015 IOP Publishing Ltd • Environmental Research Letters, Volume 10, Number 8
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An analysis of the climate impact of various forms of beef production is carried out, with a particular eye to the comparison between systems relying primarily on grasses grown in pasture (‘grass-fed’ or ‘pastured’ beef) and systems involving substantial use of manufactured feed requiring significant external inputs in the form of synthetic fertilizer and mechanized agriculture (‘feedlot’ beef). The climate impact is evaluated without employing metrics such as or global warming potentials. The analysis evaluates the impact at all time scales out to 1000 years. It is concluded that certain forms of pastured beef production have substantially lower climate impact than feedlot systems. However, pastured systems that require significant synthetic fertilization, inputs from supplemental feed, or deforestation to create pasture, have substantially greater climate impact at all time scales than the feedlot and dairy-associated systems analyzed. Even the best pastured system analyzed has enough climate impact to justify efforts to limit future growth of beef production, which in any event would be necessary if climate and other ecological concerns were met by a transition to primarily pasture-based systems. Alternate mitigation options are discussed, but barring unforseen technological breakthroughs worldwide consumption at current North American per capita rates appears incompatible with a 2 °C warming target.


Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption

24 November 2015

Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius, the main goal of the climate negotiations in Paris.

Key findings

  • Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change.
  • Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius.
  • Public awareness of the issue is low, and meat remains off the policy agenda.
  • Governments must lead in shifting attitudes and behaviours.

The problem

  • Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change. Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius. The livestock sector accounts for 15 per cent of global emissions, equivalent to exhaust emissions from all the vehicles in the world. A shift to healthier patterns of meat-eating could bring a quarter of the emissions reductions we need to keep on track for a two-degree world.
  • Global meat consumption has already reached unhealthy levels, and is on the rise. In industrialized countries, the average person is already eating twice as much meat as is deemed healthy by experts. Overconsumption is already contributing to the rise of obesity and non-communicable diseases like cancer and type-2 diabetes, and it is a growing problem: global meat consumption is set to rise by over 75 per cent by 2050.
  • Governments are missing a key opportunity for climate mitigation, trapped in a cycle of inertia. In spite of a compelling case for addressing meat consumption and shifting diets, governments fear the repercussions of intervention, while low public awareness means they feel little pressure to intervene.

Key findings

  • Public awareness of the link between diet and climate change is very low. There is a considerable awareness gap around the links between livestock, diet and climate change. While awareness-raising alone will not be sufficient to effect dietary change, it will be crucial to ensuring the efficacy of the range of government policy interventions required.
  • Governments must lead. Our research found a general belief across cultures and continents that it is the role of government to spearhead efforts to address unsustainable consumption of meat. Governments overestimate the risk of public backlash and their inaction signals to publics that the issue is unimportant or undeserving of concern.
  • The issue is complex but the message must be simple. Publics respond best to simple messages. Efforts must be made to develop meaningful, accessible and impactful messaging around the need for dietary change. The overall message remains clear: globally we should eat less meat.
  • Trusted sources are key to raising awareness. Unless disseminated and supported by trusted sources, new information that encourages shifts in meat-eating habits is likely to be met with resistance. Trust in governments varies considerably between countries, but experts are consistently seen as the most reliable source of information within a country.


Build the case for government intervention. A compelling evidence base which resonates with existing policy objectives such as managing healthcare costs, reducing emissions and implementing international frameworks will help mobilize policy-makers.

Initiate national debates about meat consumption. Increasing public awareness about the problems of overconsumption of animal products can help disrupt the cycle of inertia, thereby creating more enabling domestic circumstances and the political space for policy intervention. This is a role for governments, the media, the scientific community, civil society and responsible business.

Pursue comprehensive approaches. Shifting diets will require comprehensive strategies, which together will amount to more than the sum of their parts by sending a powerful signal to consumers that reducing meat consumption is beneficial and that government takes the issue seriously.


Global agriculture can boost resilience to climate change and reduce emissions.

UNEP Paris, Dec 1, 2015: Global agriculture production is a sector most seriously affected by climate change, increased climate variability is causing more severe floods and droughts, threatening livelihoods and food security. And yet agriculture is a big part of the problem responsible for 24 % of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which cause climate change.
Delegates, which included his Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, attending a packed Lima Paris Action Agenda focus event, were introduced to initiatives that both help farmers adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. The event aimed to show how effective and concrete progress that can be made when a wide, international set of stakeholders work together to build resilience and low-carbon systems of production in agricultural and food systems….Craig Hanson, Global Director of Food, Forests & Water at the World Resources Institute (WRI), a partner of the SAVE FOOD Initiative said that food waste was a huge problem with 1.3billion tons of food deliberately discarded from farm to fork. “This food waste would cover a land area the size of China, consume one quarter of the amount of water used in agriculture, and emit 8% of all greenhouse gases,” Mr Hanson said. “If food loss was a country it would be the 3rd largest GHG emitter.” France’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Stéphane Le Foll, helped launched the the 4/1000 Initiative, which aims to protect and increase carbon stocks in soils.

“We are ensuring that soil is always covered by plants in order to fix carbon and return it to the soil,” M. Le Foll said. “This is something we have been doing in France in order to boost soil carbon and is something that could be very important for many countries in Africa.” At the heart of the Agriculture Action Agenda, are six major initiatives supporting farmers, which include:

The “4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”

Officially launched today by a hundred partners (developed and developing states, international organizations, private foundations, international funds, NGOs and farmers’ organization) the 4/1000 Initiative aims to protect and increase carbon stocks in soils. Soils can store huge quantities of carbon and contributing to limitation of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere, supplementing the necessary efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally and generally throughout the economy. The partners decided to reinforce their actions on appropriate soil management, recognizing the importance of soil health for the transition towards productive, highly resilient agriculture. This initiative intends to show that a small increase of 4/1000 per year of the soil carbon stock (agricultural soils, notably grasslands and pastures, and forest soils) is a major leverage in order to improve soil fertility, resilience of farmers and contribute to the long-term objective of keeping the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees….


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