The pitfalls of simplification when looking at greenhouse gas emissions from livestock

What we choose to eat,  how we move around and how these activities contribute to climate change is receiving a lot of media attention. In this context, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and transport are often compared, but in a flawed way.

The comparison measures direct emissions from transport against both direct and indirect emissions from livestock. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies and monitors human activities responsible for climate change and reports direct emissions by sectors. The IPCC estimates that direct emissions from transport (road, air, rail and maritime) account for 6.9 gigatons per year, about 14% of all emissions from human activities. These emissions mainly consist of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide from fuel combustion. By comparison, direct emissions from livestock account for 2.3 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, or 5% of the total. They consist of methane and nitrous oxide from rumen digestion and manure management. Contrary to transport, agriculture is based on a large variety of natural processes that emit (or leak) methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide from multiple sources. While it is possible to “de-carbonize” transport, emissions from land use and agriculture are much more difficult to measure and control.

Using a global life cycle approach, FAO estimated all direct and indirect emissions from livestock (cattle, buffaloes, goat, sheep, pigs and poultry) at 7.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent per year, or 14.5% of all anthropogenic emissions reported by the IPCC. In addition to rumen digestion and manure, life cycle emissions also include those from producing feed and forages, which the IPCC reports under crops and forestry, and those from processing and transporting meat, milk and eggs, which the IPCC reports under industry and transport. Hence, we cannot compare the transport sector’s 14% as calculated by the IPCC, to the 14.5% of livestock using the life cycle approach.

Though it is the most systematic and comprehensive method for assessing environmental impacts according to the IPCC, there is no life cycle approach estimate available for the transport sector at a global level to our knowledge. Non-availability, uncertainty or variability of data limit its application. But several studies, including some reported by the IPCC, show that transport emissions increase significantly when considering the entire life cycle of fuel and vehicles, including emissions from extracting fuel and disposing of old vehicles. For example in the US, greenhouse gas emissions for the life cycle of passenger transport would be about 1.5 times higher than the operational ones.

Comparing transport and livestock raises another issue. Wealthy consumers, in both high and low income countries, who are rightly concerned about their individual carbon footprint, have options like driving less or choosing low carbon food. However, more than 820 million people are suffering from hunger and even more from nutrient deficiencies. Meat, milk and eggs are much sought after to address malnutrition. Out of the 767 million people living in extreme poverty, about half of them are pastoralists, smallholders or workers relying on livestock for food and livelihoods. The flawed comparison and negative press about livestock may influence development plans and investments and further increase their food insecurity.

Livestock emissions have come into particular focus because it generally takes more resources to produce beef than comparable other food items. Hence emissions from land-use change and feed production are high, in addition to enteric fermentation. Moreover, methane has a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide but it’s lifespan in the atmosphere is only 12 years, which means that reducing methane emissions would have a positive impact on climate change in a much shorter time span.

Countries, particularly in Latin America, are responding to these challenges by developing low carbon livestock production that will achieve emission reductions at scale, focusing on emission intensity, soil carbon and pasture restoration, and better recycling of by-products and waste. Such programmes also produce a number of environmental and socio-economic co-benefits, like biodiversity and water conservation, or generation of rural employment and income.

The world needs both consumers that are aware of their food choices and producers and companies that engage in low carbon development. In that process, livestock can indeed make a large contribution to climate change mitigation, food security and sustainable development in general.

Anne Mottet is a Livestock Development Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, specialising in natural resource use efficiency and climate change. She has 15 years of work experience in research, quantitative analysis and strategic consulting to the agricultural sector.

Henning Steinfeld is head of the livestock sector analysis and policy branch at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. He has been working on agricultural and livestock policy for the last 15 years, in particular focusing on environmental issues, poverty and public health protection. 

Judge rejects effort to temporarily halt killing of wolves

Gray wolf (File photo)


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state judge on Friday rejected efforts to temporarily block the killing of wolves that are preying on livestock in Ferry County.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy turned down a request from a conservation group for a temporary restraining order to block the killing.

The Center for Biological Diversity contended that killing wolves ignores science, causes long-term environmental harm and goes against the wishes of the great majority of state residents.

“We’re disappointed this kill order remains in place but we’re hopeful the courts will eventually stop this tragic string of state-sanctioned wolf killings,” said Amaroq Weiss, wolf advocate for the center.

She said Washington had a “trigger-happy approach to wolf management.”

It was not immediately clear when the wolf hunts would begin.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Wednesday approved killing one or more members of a new wolf pack that had attacked cattle near the Canadian border in northeast Washington. Wolves had killed a calf and injured five others on federal grazing land in Ferry County since Sept. 4, the agency said.

The new wolf pack has been dubbed the Old Profanity Territory Pack because the attacks occurred in an area once occupied by the Profanity Peak pack. The Profanity Peak pack was killed by the state in 2016 for preying on cattle.

Wolves were killed off in Washington early in the last century. But the animals started returning to the state early in this century from Idaho and Canada. There are at least 122 wolves in 22 packs in the state, according to the latest annual survey.

The agency contends that killing off some or all of the new pack will not harm recovery efforts.

Wolves are protected as an endangered species throughout the state. But a protocol developed by the agency and others to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock allows the state to kill wolves if officials confirm a certain number of livestock attacks within a certain time period.

The state has killed a total of 19 wolves in recent years, including a member of the Togo pack earlier this month.

Washington State to Kill More Wolves in Ferry County

by Evan Bush / Seattle Times
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind announced plans Wednesday for the agency (WDFW) to kill at least one of the wolves reportedly responsible for a recent rash of attacks on cattle in Ferry County, according to a department news release.
It’s the second time this year that WDFW has resorted to killing wolves as confrontations between the animals and cattle continue to bedevil the agency responsible for the canine species’ recovery in Washington state. A WDFW marksman earlier this month shot and killed a member of the Togo wolf pack, which was also preying on Ferry County cattle. Two conservation organizations filed a legal challenge over the agency’s decision about the Togo wolf. That lawsuit is ongoing.
WDFW will not be able to kill members of the new wolf pack until Thursday afternoon, and new legal challenges loom. Amaroq Weiss, a wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization will seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the killing.
The wolf pack WDFW plans to target has tried to prey on cattle six times this month on federal grazing lands, killing one calf and injuring five others, according to WDFW. The pack, which was first identified by the department in May, is so new it does not have an official name. The agency believes the pack is made up of three or four adult wolves and two pups. WDFW biologists were able to collar the new pack’s adult male earlier this summer.
The wolf pack is living in the Kettle River Range, the same area that the Profanity Peak Pack once occupied. WDFW killed the members of the Profanity Peak Pack in 2016. Last year, the agency also targeted the Sherman Pack nearby.
Because it’s the third year in a row the agency intends to kill wolves in the area, some conservation organizations, including those that have supported lethal removal in the past, wonder if it’s time to try something new.
“It’s a really highly desirable landscape for wolves to be in. They keep coming back,” said Paula Sweeden, policy director for Conservation Northwest. She said the area is thickly forested, steep and often roadless. Cattle there are widely dispersed, which makes it difficult for range riders to keep track of them.
Sweeden said it was clear that the nonlethal methods employed by ranchers to prevent wolves from preying on cattle were clearly not working, but killing wolves there was not working, either.
“Three times in the same place indicates that combination is not working,” she said. “We want to call for a step back.”

Washington wildlife agency gets green light to kill cattle-hunting wolf


Washington state government marksmen now have clearance to go out this weekend to shoot a wolf from a pack that has been preying on cattle in the Colville National Forest. A judge on Friday declined to extend a temporary stay on the killing won by several environmental groups last week.

Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity and Cascadia Wildlands were back in Thurston County Superior Court Friday morning seeking a longer injunction. They wanted to prevent the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing members of the Togo wolf pack.

“There is a high burden that has to be met,” said Judge Carol Murphy in issuing a denial from the bench. “That burden has not been met at this time.”

The new Department of Fish and Wildlife director, Kelly Susewind, watched from the back of the courtroom. After the ruling, he said he was “glad” the agency can proceed.

Still, inside and outside court Friday, the wildlife agency faced questions about the necessity of hunting down the male wolf, given that he is already limping from an existing bullet wound in a rear leg and probably not currently a threat to livestock.

“In order to change pack behavior, it’s still appropriate to lethally remove the collared male,” Susewind said in an interview.

The West Coast wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity predicted the disruption of the pack structure from killing its leader could increase — not decrease — problems for ranchers in the mountains near the Canadian border.

“In killing that wolf, that leaves his mate on her own to hunt and feed herself and her two pups,” said Amaroq Weiss. “If she’s hunting by herself, she’s not going to be able to take a big, wild prey animal like an elk down by herself. The most vulnerable prey that is in the area is livestock. So this may actually exacerbate the conflicts and result in more livestock losses, which no one wants.”

Weiss called the courtroom outcome “a tragic result” for the wolf, his pups and mate.

Susewind’s authorization to take lethal measures against one or more members of the Togo pack came after the pack preyed on cattle on six separate occasions in the Kettle River Range since last November.

Late last week, a cattleman shot and injured the Togo pack male in an incident that remains under investigation by Fish and Wildlife. The rancher told the agency’s staff that he shot in self-defense after encountering the growling wolf, who may have been protecting the pack’s pups.

Environmental groups in the Pacific Northwest other than those that brought the lawsuit are grudgingly going along with killing problem wolves as a last resort policy.

“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Bellingham-based group Conservation Northwest, in a statement critical of the legal challenge.

He said collaboration between conservation groups, government agencies and livestock producers “is leading to less social conflict concerning wolves.” It’s also making ranchers more willing to adopt non-lethal wolf deterrence techniques, Friedman said.

Copyright 2018 Northwest News Network.

New Zealand needs to get rid of up to a fifth of livestock methane emissions to stop more global warming

New Zealand’s emissions profile is unique

Agriculture 45%Road transport 17%Other 13%Manufacturing 8%Industrial 7%Public electricity 5%Waste disposal 5%

New research on methane emissions
New official research suggest we need 10-22 per cent reduction of livestock emissions

New Zealand would need to reduce livestock methane emissions by up to 22 per cent by 2050 to stop any additional global warming, official research shows.

This would likely require a serious reduction in the number of livestock farmed, unless new and untried technologies can be shown to work.

Livestock contribute the vast majority of our methane emissions, mostly through belching.

The release from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment throws a wrench into an emerging consensus across the country that “stabilising” NZ’s short-lived methane emissions at current levels could be a viable option to stop warming.

What is the NZ Government’s Zero Carbon Bill and will it do anything?
Simon Bridges offers Government bipartisan support on climate change
Farmers see some positives in Government approach to climate change 
Dr Andy Reisinger: livestock impact on climate change set to rise

It suggests that actual “stabilisation” would still require a reduction in livestock or the success of new methods to lower emissions, such as special feeds, vaccines or tweaking livestock breeding.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw is currently consulting on plans for a Zero Carbon Act, which would set some kind of reduction target in law.

Parliamentary Commissioner and former National Party Environment Minister Simon Upton is working on a wider report concerning the Zero Carbon Act but decided to put out this research from Andy Reisinger early in order to inform debate.

Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said the key point of the report was  reductions of 10-22 per cent were needed by 2050, whereas earlier reports before said they just needed to be stabilised.

There are three goals for 2050 currently on the table – and none of them consider “no more warming” to be the actual goal.

One is exactly what it says on the tin: net zero carbon, but nothing else, meaning agriculture’s “short-lived” methane emissions would be left alone. The second or middle option is net zero long-lived gases, like carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, and “stabilised” short-term gases, like methane.

Finally, the third option is simply net zero for all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“To me the report is saying we don’t need to go to complete net zero,” Hoggard said.

The middle option of “stabilisation” has attracted a lot of interest but has not yet been made completely clear. The idea behind it is that since methane emissions decay in the atmosphere much faster than carbon, the Government could keep a steady level of methane emissions over time and, because of the drop-off from emissions ten years ago, simply keep the level consistent without contributing much to further warming, recycling the decaying methane with new emissions.

About 43 per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gases are caused by methane and 11 per cent by nitrous oxide, the first generated by all livestock burping, the latter mainly by cows urinating.

The research released by Upton is careful not to suggest policy, but to simply make clear that while methane mostly decays within a decade or so, its lasting effects are such that a significant reduction would still be needed for New Zealand to contribute to no further warming.

“It shows that holding New Zealand’s methane emissions steady at current levels would not be enough to avoid additional global warming,” Upton said.

“If New Zealand’s emissions of livestock methane were held steady at 2016 levels, then within about ten years the amount of methane in the atmosphere from that source would level off. However the warming effect of that methane would continue to increase at a gradually declining rate for more than a century.”

Livestock contribute the vast majority of our methane emissions, mostly through belching.
Livestock contribute the vast majority of our methane emissions, mostly through belching.

Hoggard said if cow efficiency could be improved as it has, and farmers reduced stock, the reductions could occur.

“There are things I could do but might not be allowed. One the things that holds me back are dry conditions. Irrigation would help but that’s a dirty word, and a herd home would help but people get upset if cows are in there for a length of time.”

“People say cut cow numbers but they have an ideological view of the sector and don’t understand the trade-offs in operating a biological system,” Hoggard said.

The research shows that even if stabilised at 2016 levels warming from methane would increase by 10-20 per cent by 2050, and 25-40 per cent by 2100.

To avoid this New Zealand would need to reduce livestock methane emissions by between 10 and 22 per cent by 2050 and then 20-27 per cent by 2100.

The range of options depends on the amount that other countries reduce their emissions, as methane interacts with other gases in complex ways.

National climate change spokesman Todd Muller welcomed the report, saying it showed New Zealand needed to reduce agricultural emissions by “just” 10-22 per cent.

 “The research released today shows that reducing methane emissions by just 10 – 22 per cent will mean New Zealand’s methane emissions have a neutral impact on global temperature,” Muller said.

“If we reduce methane by 10 – 22 per cent, and reduce all other gases to zero, it is equivalent to a 54 – 60 per cent reduction in our total emissions which is in line with New Zealand’s existing 2050 target.”

Muller and party leader Simon Bridges have made clear they want to work with the Government on setting a target not likely to be changed the moment the Government does.

“We are working with the Government to make meaningful bi-partisan progress on climate change. National wants an independent, non-political Climate Change Commission established so we have a framework through which we address climate change issues in the future,” Muller said.

Acting Climate Change Minister Eugenie Sage said it was a useful contribution to the policy debate, and the reduction was achievable.

“This report shows New Zealand’s methane emissions would need to reduce by about 10 to 22 per cent below 2016 levels (ie the latest year for which emissions data is available) by 2050, with further reductions between 20 to 27 per cent by 2100, if we want to ensure methane emissions from livestock don’t contribute to additional global warming,” Sage said.

She noted some in the sector believed the reduction was possible with existing technology.

“That is seen as achievable by some in the agricultural sector, given that methane output per unit of production has been in decline by about 1 per cent per year for the last few decades, and given some leaders in the sector believe they can reduce methane output by as much as 30 per cent using existing technology and best practice.”

Greenpeace sustainable agriculture campaigner Gen Toop disagreed, saying a reduction in cow numbers was the only viable path forwards.

“The dairy industry say there are no easy solutions for reducing methane emissions from ruminants but they deny the obvious solution is to reduce livestock numbers. Fewer cows means fewer emissions,” Toop said.

“The simple truth is there are already too many cows for our climate to cope with, yet the Government is still allowing dairy conversions to continue – even in fragile and unique places like the Mackenzie country.”

Upton himself said the country and world needed to focus on reducing emissions.

“This whole debate started off in the early 1990s and we all said ‘we’re going to plant pine trees in the mean time because we don’t have an easy set of technologies, we’re going to use that time to find the technologies to find a way out,'” Upton said.

“We’ve used up 25 years, we still haven’t found the technologies. We haven’t focused on reducing emissions. We have to now focus on that.”

“2050 is not far away. You can’t turn things around overnight.”

He said there were encouraging technological breakthroughs, particularly on the carbon side of the issue, but actual reduction would still be needed.

Upton expected Governments would make peace with some level of warming from methane emissions, but should aim to get carbon down to net zero.

B.C. works to safeguard livestock during another tough wildfire season

13,000 livestock, mostly cattle, have been in areas affected by evacuation orders and alerts

Cattle run on a ranch as the Shovel Lake wildfire burns in the distance sending a massive cloud of smoke into the air near Fort St. James. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

British Columbia’s agriculture minister says critical lessons learned from last year’s wildfires that had ranchers and producers suffering devastating losses will help save animals during another season that could force more people from their properties.

Lana Popham said Wednesday the province’s premises identification program, which was meant to trace cattle back to an operation during a disease outbreak, allowed animals to be rescued last year after evacuation orders were issued.

“As the fires increased last summer and this program seemed to have so much value we saw those numbers increase significantly,” she said of more farmers and ranchers registering for the program.

“That’s allowing us to get into areas that have been identified as heavy agricultural, livestock areas and be able to assess a situation and move those animals out as needed.”

In some cases, grazing cattle remained safe in certain areas after ranchers have left due to encroaching fires, Popham said, adding 35,000 livestock were on the loose last year at the height of the worst wildfire conditions.

“This program allows them to re-enter into evacuation zones and tend to their livestock so it’s extremely important for people to be registered for this program and I think over the last two years, especially, that message has hit home.”

So far this season, 13,000 livestock, mostly cattle but also sheep, horses and pigs, have been in areas affected by evacuation orders and alerts, Popham said, adding ministry staff are working with the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association to co-ordinate alternate grazing sites, organizing emergency feeds and helping with the relocation of animals.

“We won’t often know if they’ve been lost until they don’t come home later in the fall,” Popham said. “I have heard reports of cattle that have been burned, but no numbers on that yet.”

Williams Lake is one of the hardest-hit areas, Popham said.

“The emotional toll that these farmers and ranchers are feeling is tremendous. And we saw this last year. You see some of the strongest farmers you know break down when they realize some of their animals aren’t coming home.”

After the 2017 wildfires, the federal government provided $20 million in funding to help farmers and ranchers, but Popham said her ministry has not made any requests for financial help so far this year as it awaits assessments on areas that weren’t affected last year.

Frustrated northeast Washington politicians meet after judge blocks killing of Togo pack wolves

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 24, 2018, 6:27 p.m.

Politicians and ranchers in northeast Washington are chafing after two environmental groups from outside of the state temporarily blocked the legal killing of members of the Togo wolf pack.

In response, county commissioners from Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties met Friday in Colville.

“The meeting today was to try and develop, I guess, a strategy to go forward figuring out how to give the people in these counties a little bit of relief,” said Stevens County commissioner Don Dashiell.

Commissioners discussed, among other things, taking legal action.

The meeting was held in Colville in advance of a Tri County Economic Development District meeting.

Of particular concern was whether a judge will extend the temporary restraining order blocking the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from killing members of the Togo pack.

The Thurston County judge is scheduled to make a decision next Friday.

“When the judge put the restraining order on the department he didn’t put the restraining order on the wolves,” Dashiell said.

On Monday, WDFW ordered the lethal removal of wolves from the Togo pack in northeast Washington. However, the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and Oregon-based Cascadia Wildlands filed a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to stop the killing. The lawsuit alleges that WDFW “relied upon a faulty protocol and failed to undergo required environmental analysis.”

The lethal removal order came after six documented cattle depredations in the past 10 months by the Togo pack. Three of those cattle kills occurred within the past 30 days. The most recent documented depredation occurred when one or more wolves injured a calf on a U.S. Forest Service grazing allotment in Ferry County.

WDFW’s policy allows killing of wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month periodThat policy was developed in 2016 by WDFW and its 18-member Wolf Advisory Group, which represents the concerns of environmentalists, hunters and livestock ranchers.

Seattle-based Conservation Northwest decried the lawsuit in a news release Thursday.

“Lawsuits and polarization haven’t worked out well for wolves elsewhere, so we see little upside in spreading those tactics to Washington, where wolf recovery is going relatively well overall” said Mitch Friedman, Conservation Northwest executive director in a news release. “Instead of polarization, our focus is on collaboration and long-term coexistence.”

All three Ferry and Stevens county commissioners attended the meeting. One Pend Oreille county commissioner also joined, as did state lawmakers, including Rep. Joel Kretz and Rep. Shelly Short.

Ferry County commissioner Johnna Exner said the commissioners are considering legal action and will be working with county prosecutors to see what those options are.

Exner pointed out that the hearing on the temporary restraining order was filed in Thurston County, too far away for any ranchers or northeast politicians to attend.

“It was held way too far away for anyone to even get to the court date,” she said.

The commissioners discussed other ways of alleviating the pressure on ranchers who they say are struggling to stay afloat because of wolf predations, Dashiell said.

One idea floated Friday was for WDFW to trap members of the Togo pack and hold them until the judge rules on whether the wolves can be killed or not.

Dashiell acknowledged that plan likely wouldn’t work.

Another possibility, Exner said, would be if wolves were delisted at the state level which would give the counties more flexibility. Wolves remain federally protected in the western two-thirds of the state and protected throughout the state under state law.

Exner pointed out that WDFW waited a week before ordering the killing of the wolves. For ranchers the extra time means potentially more dead cows, she said.

“(We need) swifter action on the plan that has already been set,” she said. “Both sides need to follow the plan.”

State will kill members of wolf pack to protect cattle

SPOKANE, Wash. — The state of Washington will take steps to kill members of a wolf pack that have been preying on cattle in the northeast corner of the state.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife says members of the Togo pack have preyed on cattle three times in the past 30 days, and six times in the past 10 months.

In the most recent depredation, state officials say one or more wolves were responsible for injuring a calf on a federal grazing allotment in Ferry County.

The department says it will use humane hunting methods, with likely options including shooting from a helicopter, trapping, and shooting from the ground.

The wolf hunts have sparked controversy in the past, with environmental groups saying the state is too quick to kill wolves.

State mulls killing ‘predatory’ wolf pack in Eastern Wash.

[Excuse me, but wolves are predators–Humans can go vegan!]

Gray wolf (File photo)


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – The state of Washington has not made a decision on whether it will kill members of a wolf pack that have been preying on cattle.

Members of the Togo pack are suspected of attacking five head of cattle in the past 10 months in the northeast corner of Washington.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is gathering more information about the incidents, which began last November.

The Spokesman-Review reports the state’s policy allows killing wolves if they prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period. That policy was developed in 2016 by the agency and its Wolf Advisory Group, which represents environmentalists, hunters and ranchers.

In the latest depredation, a cow was killed Aug. 8 while grazing near Danville, Washington.

Wolf pack kills a cow in Eastern WA

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Members of the Togo wolf pack in the Colville National Forest of eastern Washington state killed one cow and injured another last week.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says the Togo pack is responsible for five depredations in the past 10 months, including two last November and one in May.

The agency said Monday that it was alerted last week about a potential wolf depredation near Danville, Washington. Staff have confirmed the cow was killed by a wolf or wolves.

The agency’s policy allows the killing of wolves that prey on livestock three times in a 30-day period or four times in a 10-month period.

The agency says it will continue to monitor the Togo pack as it considers its next steps.