top of page
Les bovins à Sunrise

Livestock Farming and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Understanding the Impact


Livestock farming significantly contributes to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs). In this article, we will explore the various gases emitted by livestock and their effects. Additionally, we will discuss the global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, the comparison with transportation emissions, and the potential solutions to reduce the sector's impact.

Image de Domie Sharpin

Understanding GHG Emissions from Livestock Farming

Livestock farming generates GHG emissions in four main categories: enteric fermentation, effluent management, animal feed production, and energy consumption on farms. Enteric fermentation, primarily in herbivores, releases methane (CH4), while effluent management emits gaseous compounds, including CH4 and nitrous oxide (N2O). Animal feed production contributes to emissions from fertilized soil (N2O), feed manufacturing, and transportation, as well as changes in land use. Lastly, energy consumption on farms and upstream processes leads to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Greenhouse Gases Emitted

The main GHGs emitted by livestock farming include CO2, CH4, and N2O. Methane has a warming power 21 times greater than CO2 and persists in the atmosphere for approximately 12 years. Nitrous oxide is 310 times more potent than CO2 and remains in the atmosphere for around 114 years. These emissions contribute to the significant role of livestock farming in global warming.

Global GHG Emissions from Livestock Farming

Livestock farming accounts for around 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents (CO2 eq) annually, representing 14.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities. Cattle for meat and milk production are the primary contributors, accounting for 41% and 20% of the sector's emissions, respectively. Pork production contributes 9%, while chicken and egg production contribute 8% of emissions.

Comparison with Transportation Emissions

Livestock farming emissions are often compared to transportation emissions to highlight the sector's environmental impact. It's crucial to note that livestock farming emissions include the entire supply chain "from farm to fork," while transportation emissions only consider vehicle emissions. Livestock farming also provides carbon storage in soils, which is not considered in transportation emissions. Animal feed production and ruminant digestion are the leading causes of GHG production, accounting for 45% and 39% of emissions in the global livestock sector, respectively.


Regional Variances and Strategies to Reduce Emissions

GHG emissions from livestock farming vary across regions. In Europe, emissions from the livestock sector range from 630 to 863 Mt CO2 eq, accounting for 12% to 17% of total EU-27 emissions. To mitigate the sector's impact, several strategies can be implemented. These include developing animal feed with a more digestible diet, optimizing nitrogen inputs, reducing the use of imported food, improving herd management, implementing efficient fertilization practices, reducing energy consumption, and increasing carbon storage through afforestation and permanent grassland.

The Role of Carbon Storage in Soils

Soils play a vital role in carbon storage, with grazing animals supporting the sequestration process by stimulating plant growth and increasing the soil's organic matter content. Soil management practices, such as non-tillage, restitution of crop residues and livestock effluents, intermediate crops, and permanent grassland, contribute to carbon storage. However, overgrazing can lead to carbon losses. Natural permanent grassland can store a similar amount of carbon in the soil as forests, making it a valuable carbon sink.


Livestock farming significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. However, it also has the potential to reduce emissions through various process and techniques, such agroecology and the maintenance of permanent meadows.

Les champs de pissenlit
Vaches dans les montagnes

The Interplay of Livestock Farming, Nutrients, and Soil Health

In the realm of agriculture, nitrogen and phosphorus play indispensable roles in livestock farming, impacting both plant and animal growth. However, the effective management of these nutrients is paramount to minimize their environmental consequences. In this article, we will explore the intricate relationship between nitrogen, phosphorus, and soil health in the context of livestock farming.

bandeau GIS avenir_crop.png
bandeau GIS avenir_crop_edited.jpg


Home page

Continue to explore

bottom of page