Cows and cars should not be conflated in climate change debate
Farmer's Weekly|December 03, 2021
Discussions about, and analyses of, the impact of livestock as emission polluters often fail to distinguish between different farming systems. According to Ian Scoones, professorial fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, intensive and extensive production systems have different effects on the environment.
Ian Scoones

With world leaders having returned from the recent gathering at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, there is much talk of methane emissions and belching cows. The Global Methane Pledge, led by the US and EU and now with many country signatories, aims to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This is seen as a ‘quick win’ to reduce global warming and will have major implications for livestock production.

Livestock have become the villain of climate change. Some researchers claim that 14,5% of all human-derived emissions come from livestock, either directly or indirectly. There have been widespread calls for radical shifts in livestock production globally to address climate chaos. But which livestock, and where? As a new report that I co-authored, ‘Are livestock always bad for the planet?’, argues, it is vitally important to differentiate between production systems.

Not all milk and meat are the same. Extensive and often mobile pastoral systems of the sort commonly seen across Africa, as well as in Asia, Latin America and Europe, have hugely different effects to contained, intensive and industrial livestock production.

Yet, in standard narratives about diet and production shifts, all livestock are lumped together. Cows are misleadingly equated with polluting cars and beef with coal. The simplistic ‘all livestock are bad’ narrative is promoted by campaign organisers, environmental celebrities, rich philanthropists and policymakers alike. Inevitably, it dominates media coverage. A much more sophisticated debate is needed.

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