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A sustainable dairy sector

Global regional and life cycle facts and figures on greenhouse-gas emissions

The report examines ‘facts and figures’ concerning climate impacts in the dairy sector. Recent studies point to the relatively large share of meat and dairy products in the total environmental impact of our consumption. The context for dairy as a separate sector is provided by this report. One of the main conclusions of the report is that dairy livestock emissions contribute 1.2% to the total global greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is the major contributor and while on-farm methane emissions have decreased in Annex-I countries, the share of dairy remains relatively stable as other sectors also reduced emissions. Next to these on-farm dairy emissions, global cradle-to-farm-gate emissions are estimated. Cradle-to-farm gate emissions are 0.8-1.4 kg CO2-eq. per kg milk and in total contribute 3% to total global climate emissions. Enteric fermentation is the main source of climate impact over the life cycle, but reducing these emissions may lead to trade offs if emissions in the production of feed increase. For a better understanding of such life-cycle effects, a more consistent life cycle assessment practice for dairy systems is necessary. Finally, post-farm emissions add 10-20% to cradle-to-farm gate emissions, partly due to product losses and cooled storage in the house. Therefore, consumer options may be effective in lowering climate impacts in the dairy life cycle.

Delft, October 2008


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