University of Tasmania
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Carbon myopia: the urgent need for integrated social, economic and environmental action in the livestock sector

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 12:08 authored by Matthew HarrisonMatthew Harrison, Cullen, BR, Mayberry, DE, Cowie, AL, Bilotto, F, Badgery, WB, Liu, K, Davison, T, Karen Christie, Albert MulekeAlbert Muleke, Eckard, RJ

Livestock have long been integral to food production systems, often not by choice but by need. While our knowledge of livestock greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) mitigation has evolved, the prevailing focus has been - somewhat myopically – on technology applications associated with mitigation. Here, we (1) examine the global distribution of livestock GHG emissions, (2) explore social, economic and environmental co-benefits and trade-offs associated with mitigation interventions, and (3) critique approaches for quantifying GHG emissions.

This review uncovered many insights. First, while GHG emissions from ruminant livestock are greatest in low and middle-income countries (LMIC; globally, 66% of emissions are produced by Latin America and the Caribbean, East and southeast Asia, and south Asia), the majority of mitigation strategies are designed for developed countries. This serious concern is heightened by the fact that 80% of growth in global meat production over the next decade will occur in LMIC. Second, few studies concurrently assess social, economic and environmental aspects of mitigation. Of the 54 interventions reviewed, only 16 had triple-bottom line benefit with medium-high mitigation potential. Third, while efforts designed to stimulate adoption of strategies allowing both emissions reduction (ER) and carbon sequestration (CS) would achieve the greatest net emissions mitigation, CS measures have greater potential mitigation and co-benefits.

The scientific community must shift attention away from the prevailing myopic lens on carbon, towards more holistic, systems-based, multi-metric approaches that carefully consider the raison d'être for livestock systems. Consequential life-cycle assessments and systems-aligned ‘socio-economic planetary boundaries’ offer useful starting points that may uncover leverage points and cross-scale emergent properties. Derivation of harmonised, globally-reconciled sustainability metrics requires iterative dialogue between stakeholders at all levels. Greater emphasis on the simultaneous characterisation of multiple sustainability dimensions would help avoid situations where progress made in one area causes maladaptive outcomes in other areas.


Meat and Livestock Australia

University of Tasmania


Publication title

Global Change Biology










Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)


Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

9600 Garsington Rd, Oxford, England, Oxon, Ox4 2Dg

Rights statement

Copyright 2021 The Authors. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Repository Status

  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Environmentally sustainable animal production not elsewhere classified; Management of greenhouse gas emissions from animal production; Environmentally sustainable plant production not elsewhere classified