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Farming Emissions Surpasses Cars and Vans in Europe

Nick Webb looks at new research on the damage the meat industry has on the environment.

Photo by Devin Kaselnak


Until now, efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions in Europe have been largely focused on the automotive industry and finding ways to cut down on car exhaust fumes. A new report from Greenpeace, however, has shown that in the European Union, livestock such as cows and pigs produce more greenhouse gases than all of the cars and vans in the EU combined. 

A recent increase in the scale of farming for meat and dairy has made the industry a much greater source of emissions than previously thought. In 2018, it was found that 704 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were produced in the industry, both directly (by the animals themselves) and indirectly (through land use changes and deforestation to grow animal feed) annually. This is in comparison to the 656 million tonnes produced by cars and vans. 


The Greenpeace report, ‘Farming for Failure calculates that the annual increase in emissions from farming is around 6% - roughly the same as putting an extra 8.4 million extra cars on the road each year.


Greenpeace Weighs In 

Greenpeace’s report states that

“while agriculture already counts for almost a quarter of greenhouse emissions today, if left unchecked, that is projected to increase to a full 52% of global emissions in the coming decades, with an estimated 70% of that coming from meat and dairy production.” 

Farming for Failure concludes that it is vital to cut the levels of meat and dairy farming in the EU in order to meet the carbon neutrality targets set out in the Paris Agreement. While many are focusing on carbon dioxide emissions, fewer measures are being taken to reduce the release of methane gas, despite it being the second largest contributor to global warming. According to studies, a reduction by 50% of the levels of intensive animal farming in Europe would save the equivalent of the annual emissions from the EU’s 11 lowest emitting countries in total.


Policy makers are being encouraged to promote a reduction in meat consumption, as well as a cut in public spending to subsidise industrial farming. Not only would a reduction in the farming cut out a large portion of the emissions from animals, but the average European consumes up to 60% more animal products than are recommended in dietary guidelines, so people’s health would be positively impacted by such a lifestyle change. 



Possible Solutions 


It has, however, been posited that there are other ways to reduce the emissions from farms without reducing consumption. Marielle Saunois, from the French Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, who was lead author on the paper “Earth System in Science Data”, said:

“Policies and better management have reduced emissions from landfills, manure and other sources here in Europe. People are also eating less beef and more poultry and fish.”

Marco Contiero, agriculture policy maker for Greenpeace, has warned that in order to ensure we don’t miss the targets set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, governments must get farming emissions under control:

European leaders have danced around the climate impact of animal farming for too long. Science is clear, the numbers as well: we can’t avoid the worst of climate breakdown if politicians keep defending the industrial production of meat and dairy. Farm animals won’t stop farting and burping – the only way to cut emissions at the levels needed is to cut their numbers

At present, the European Union is updating its climate laws, and are looking into new ways that farming policy could be altered in order to help reduce greenhouse emissions. These new policies are proposing a 55% cut by 2030 as a stepping stone to the larger goal of the EU being 100% carbon neutral by 2050.


You may also like: Meat Tax - A Possible Solution for Environmental and Public Health

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