Cow on a field The report says animal agriculture is the 'leading cause' of climate change - Media Credit: Adobe. Do not use without permission

Animal Agriculture Contributes To 87% Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Says Report

The paper says transitioning to a 'global plant-based economy' has the potential to sequester more than 2,000 Gigatons of CO2

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Animal agriculture accounts for ‘at least’ 87 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report. 

Climate Healers’ latest paper Animal Agriculture is the Leading Cause of Climate Change also says focusing exclusively on the reduction of fossil fuel burning will ‘accelerate climate change, potentially to the point of no return’. 

It states that while fossil fuels are currently the leading source of human-made CO2 emissions – climate change is caused by ‘cumulative human-made greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions – not just current CO2 emissions alone’.

‘A global plant-based economy’

“While humans have been burning fossil fuels for a little over 200 years, we have been burning down forests for animal agriculture for well over 8,000 years…” the report states.

“For the GSA analysis, we use factual data from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other peer-reviewed scientific sources.

“We need to transition to a global plant-based economy first and that blindly eliminating fossil fuel usage first will accelerate the warming of the planet. 

Returning to the ‘Safe zone’

“[The report] shows that the annual methane emissions from animal agriculture alone cause more incremental global warming than the annual CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel sources combined.”

It added that transitioning to a ‘global plant-based economy’ has the potential to sequester more than 2,000 Gigatons (Gt) of CO2 and help return atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to the ‘safe zone’ of under 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 equivalent.

“This paper clearly illustrates why the scientific community, government institutions, corporations and news media, who vastly underestimate the role of animal agriculture and focus primarily on reducing fossil fuel use, need to urgently change their priorities in order to be effective,” the report adds.

Conflicting views on greenhouse gas emissions

Climate Healers is a non-profit organization working to promote a vegan lifestyle and reduce the impact of climate change. 

Whilst it has been commended for spotlighting the environmental impact of the meat industry, other studies reveal different results.

For example, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) state animal agriculture is only responsible for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Associate Professor in Human Ecology at Rutgers University, Pamela McElwee, refutes the Climate Healers report.

While Dr. Rao claims the opportunity cost for land used for animal agriculture accounts for a large amount of GHGs, McElwee disagrees – and references the 2019 IPCC Climate Change And Land Special Report.

McElwee told PBN: “There is no reason to think that lands currently used for pasture would be automatically rewilded. And, how that would be equivalent to 56 percent of total current GHG emissions appears to be pulled out of a hat. In short, this is wrong and not supported by the greater scientific community working on these issues.”

You can read the full report here

*Updated September 9, 2021 at 11:51am BST*

This article was updated to include additional information on the conflicting reports surrounding greenhouse gas emissions, and critiques of the report.

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The Author

Liam Gilliver

Liam is the former Deputy Editor of Plant Based News. He has written for The Independent, Huffington Post, Attitude Magazine, and more. He is also the author of 'We're Worried About Him'.

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Lo ve
Lo ve
1 year ago

But to sustain a plant based diet we need to destroy even more forest to give space to crop. And I mean much more. I say this as a vegetarian for moral reasons (stop the suffering of animals).

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Lo ve

dont be stupid 80% of farm land is for animal ag…90% of the amizon since 1970 has been cleared for animal ag…60% of the worlds grains are snatched up by the animal product industry..90% of soy is grown for animal feed…if you want to stop animal suffering then dont consume dairy and eggs ..for eggs all males killed at 1 to 4 days and the girls are made too suffer then killed at about 16 to 24 weeks..dairy industry: so the mothers lactate they are raped and then have their babys stolen and in most intances killed..the mother dairy cow is killed and ground up for burgers at age 4..she could live to 25 if it wasent for dumb ass vegetarian!

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Russell Wilson

Your way out with your statistics! Animal foods don’t damage the environment, the way we produce them does.

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

the first part of your coment does not make any sence..the second part is an oxymoron…would you like to try comunicate again?..from what i can gather your selfish stance on this topic is :dont tell me i kill the planet when i kill animals.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Russell Wilson

What’s “selfish’ about quoting a couple of facts which should be easy enough to understand. Your statistics are wrong! You blame the consumption of animal foods ie. meat, dairy, eggs for damaging the environment, THEY DON’T. The problem is the scale and method of production, ( CAFOs or factory farming ) the same applies to most plant foods, not to the same degree, but still a serious problem. Personal moral views be they yours, mine or anybody else are irrelevant.

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

did you read the report?no you dident..there is a link to the report on the bottom of the news article here…you can also find prof poors study /lecture on utube and robert goodlands talk on utube…but you wont even look.

Rowland Ross
Rowland Ross
1 year ago
Reply to  Russell Wilson

Yes I have read the report, about a year ago. It’s by a fringe vegan movement based on the work of Goodland and Anhang ( who also have vegan leanings ) which was not accepted by the IPCC. The official figure is 18% all of which comes from the CAFOs system. The report has little to do with ecology and is purely a plant only promotion. No mention of damage from arable agriculture or of the benefits of regenerative livestock farming ( only 60 harvests left on major cropping areas ). At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the percentages are ( 87% is quite simply ludicrous ) CAFOs has to go. As I keep saying “eating animal foods is not a problem, it’s the way we produce it”

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

you have not read it at all…there is a link in the report to resperation alone anilas and that alone was more than the official 18%..when did goodland and anhag go vegan?..what years and show me your sorce…you dont know do you?.the report has nothing to do with ecology hey?..look up its definition and read the report..your stance is animal ag is no good but any one with any hint that they dont eat animals have no true and corect information …your an idiot!

Beth Love
Beth Love
1 year ago
Reply to  Rowland Ross

Rowland, it is true that some forms of animal agriculture are more damaging to the environment than other methods. For instance, confined animal feeding operations contribute more chemicals to our waterways than organic, range-fed animal operations do. And range-fed animals use tremendously more land, and in the case of grass-fed beef, contribute more greenhouse gases to the environment than cattle raised in confined feeding operations.

But there is significant research out that demonstrates that regardless of the method of production, animal foods are more damaging to the environment than plant foods. Even the most sustainable animal products are more destructive than the least sustainable plant foods. Here is one such study, that came out of Oxford University in 2018: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987.

Joseph Poore, one of the authors of that study, said that he set out to find how animal products could be sustainably raised and found that there was no such option. As a result of years of research on the paper, Poore adopted a vegan diet.

Beth Love
Beth Love
1 year ago

I have read this paper and find the reasoning very sound. The figures in the paper come from reputable sources such as the IPCC and peer-reviewed studies. I’m not sure if the world is ready to hear this truth, but there are many interesting bite-sized pieces of information in the report that are perhaps more palatable and will help out in the conversation about why we need to change human diets or perish. Thank you Plant-Based News for bringing this important report into visibility!

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