Do cows really emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than cars?

Q

Do cows really emit more greenhouse gases (GHGs) than cars?

A

In the run up to climate talks in Bonn, a campaigner involved with the livestock sector said that “the next stage of the Paris talks must put cows alongside cars”. For the most part, emission reduction plans and climate change targets focus on industry and power generation, ignoring livestock, which is responsible for 14.5% of the world’s GHG emissions.

On the global scale, cows and other farm animals really do emit more GHGs than cars: transport is only responsible for 14% of emissions, 0.5% less than livestock. However, the picture is different in industrialised economies. In the UK, agriculture was responsible for 10% of emissions while transport accounted for 24%. In the USA, 9% of emissions came from agriculture and 27% from transport; the figure for the EU is 14% from both agriculture and forestry and 11% from transport. (All these are 2015 figures.) Of course, these statistics fail to show how much of the agricultural emissions in developing or emerging countries are associated with the consumption of imported meat in industrialised nations.

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