Placing livestock in context through a systems approach

How do emissions from extensive livestock keeping compare with industrial systems?

Extensive livestock systems not only support millions of livelihoods, especially for poor and marginalised people, but also offer multiple benefits to the environment. A systems approach can help capture these contributions.

Most data on GHG emissions from livestock are based on live-cycle assessments (LCAs) of industrial systems in the Global North, where livestock have no potential to interact with the living environment.

Carefully managed herds in extensive, open-grazed and pastoral systems, on the other hand, can result in improved animal wellbeing and reduced methane emissions while also contributing to carbon sequestration, as well as to biodiversity, landscapes, livelihoods and cultural values. Livestock keepers’ practices and local knowledges of variable rangeland environments are central to climate mitigation efforts through livestock systems.

Research from northern Senegal, for example, shows how mobile management of pastoral herds can result in low net greenhouse gas emissions if the potentials for carbon sequestration in rangelands are taken into account.

A systems approach places livestock in context and differentiates production systems. It focuses on the circular interaction with the ecosystem as a constitutive part of the pastoral system itself.

The infosheet, ‘Livestock and climate change: the benefits of a systems approach’ enlists these advantages, emphasizes the need for improved data and a wider systems approach to make sure that policies reflect the conditions of pastoralism in large parts of the world.

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Drawing from the report “Are livestock always bad for the planet?” the infosheet is part of a series of material helpful for understanding the relationship between livestock, livestock keepers and climate change ahead of the COP27 of the UNFCCC. Read about the report briefing.

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