Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Dairy Sector is Reducing GHG Emissions Intensity Across the Globe

This post is written by Brian Lindsay, Director of the Dairy Sustainability Framework

The global dairy sector is committed to doing its part to reduce our impact on the environment. And while globally dairy is responsible for 3 percent of man-made green house gas emissions (GHG), the sector is already making strides to improve the health of our planet and create a sustainable world for everyone.

A new report, entitled “Climate Change and the Global Dairy Cattle Sector,” was released earlier this year that shows over a 10-year period (2005-2015), GHG emissions from the production of milk has decreased in intensity by 11 percent (GHG emissions per unit of product). And in North America, total GHG emissions for dairy actually declined. The analysis was conducted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with support from the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock and the Global Dairy Platform.

In response to consumer demand for high-quality, nutritious foods, milk production increased 30 percent over the same period.  As a result of increased global output, absolute emissions rose by 18 percent globally. Importantly, FAO notes that without the efficiency improvements made by the sector, total emissions from dairy would have increased by almost 38 percent, more than double the current levels. The largest reductions in emission intensity occurred in low and-middle-income countries with traditionally low productivity. Developed dairy regions also reduced the intensity of emissions, but the percentage improvement was not as substantial as these systems were already operating more efficiently. The gains are attributed to increased productivity per animal, better animal care, and farm management practices such as improved genetics and higher feed efficiencies.

Approximately 363 million cows on 133 million dairy farms around the world support the livelihoods of one billion people. More than six billion people regularly consume milk and dairy foods as they are affordable, accessible and nutrient-rich. The importance of dairying to socio-economic and nutritional outcomes must be balanced with the need for improved environmental outcomes.

Certainly, there is more for the global dairy sector to do with regards to protecting the health of the planet. Analysis from independent authorities such as FAO provides important guidance for the sector in its efforts to responsibly produce high-quality nutrition in ways that respect the environment, the farmers that produce it and the animals it comes from. Timely, quality data to help track and manage performance is vital.

That is one of the reasons that leaders in the dairy sector established the Dairy Sustainability Framework (DSF) in 2013. The DSF is a pre-competitive and collaborative Framework with the ambition to align the sector under 11 sustainability criteria covering the environmental, economic and social impacts of dairy. The DSF, which now represents nearly 1/3 of global milk production, serves as the vehicle for tracking and reporting the dairy sector’s sustainability performance. The sharing of performance and technical knowledge with all dairy economies is fundamental to maintaining the sector’s proactive continuous improvement ambitions at a global level.

DSF also collaborates with the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance Partnership, a multi-stakeholder initiative that benchmarks and monitors the environmental performance of the livestock sector in order to shape evidence-based policy measures and business strategies.

For more information, please contact Brian.Lindsay@dairysustainabilityframework.org

Comments

Check out Global Dairy Platform's Climate Change and Global Dairy Cattle Sector report and the outputs of the LEAP initiative (links in the blog post above)

You may also be interested in a report produced by the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL) - Livestock, Climate and Natural Resource Use, Steinfeld et al (2019)

(information from the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance Partnership, LEAP) The International Feed Industry Federation set up the Global Feed LCA Institute (GFLI) to support the environmental assessment of livestock supply chains and to stimulate the continuous improvement of environmental performance in the feed industry. Access the feed database at the link above.

(LEAP is one of the 9 Action Networks of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock featured earlier in this livestock month, check out the many products LEAP have developed at the link above)