Are livestock always bad for the planet?

We know that all livestock release greenhouse gasses, but are all livestock bad for the planet?

Simplistic and generalised narratives paint the production of livestock – particularly red meat and milk – as a major focus for climate mitigation efforts. But such narratives raise many questions, particularly for livestock systems in the Global South.

Ahead of COP27 of the UNFCCC, we question these narratives to ask: which livestock, where?

Based on assumptions that focus on industrial farming in rich countries, such narratives obscure the differences between industrial systems and extensive and mobile pastoral systems. While we might be well served by reducing the industrial production of livestock, lumping different types of livestock farming systems together in a single anti-livestock narratives forces marginalised pastoralists to bear the cost of a transition to a lower carbon future despite having contributed virtually nothing to climate change.

The problem is in the evidence.

Flaws in global assessments based on simple life-cycle assessments and poor understanding of pastoral practices have led to major gaps in the evidence on livestock and the climate, and problems with the conclusions drawn from it. Premised on productivist logics of efficiency, such assessments focus on the farm level and on per-animal outputs.

A systems approach, on the other hand, considers the contrasting contexts of industrial and extensive livestock keeping. It offers more complete and differentiated data and takes into account the wider benefits offered by extensive livestock systems to the landscape and environment.

Such a bottom-up approach also puts livestock keepers and their livelihoods and land use at the centre of climate justice initiatives. It promotes nuanced, context-specific solutions that recognise diverse starting points and different pathways for transitions to low emission alternatives.

Read the report.

Cover of briefing "Are livestoock always bad for the planet?"

A report titled “Are livestock always bad for the planet? Rethinking the protein transition and climate change debate” unpacks ten flaws in the way that livestock’s climate impacts have been assessed and elaborates on the systems approach to better include pastoralists in future debates about food and the climate.

A briefing concisely lays out the main arguments of the report.

It is also available in these languages:

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