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Summary - Greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant meat production are significant. Reductions in global ruminant numbers could make a substantial contribution to climate change mitigation goals and yield important social and environmental co-benefits…. Moving forwards, there are steps that governments and international climate negotiators can take to curb global ruminant increases and reduce emissions from the agricultural sector. Reducing meat consumption as a demand-side mitigation action offers greater greenhouse gas reduction potential (0.7–7.3 Gt CO2e yr−1) than the supply-side measures of increased crop yields (0.2–1.9 Gt CO2e yr−1) or livestock feeding efficiency (0.2–1.6 Gt CO2e yr−1). In terms of short-term climate change mitigation during the next few decades, if all the land used for ruminant livestock production were instead converted to grow natural vegetation, increased CO2sequestration on the order of 30–470% of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production could be expected. Nonetheless, policies targeting both supply-side measures to improve agricultural production efficiencies and demand-side mitigation for encouraging behavioural changes to reduce meat consumption (particularly ruminant meat) and waste have the best chance of providing rapid and lasting climate benefits.
Ripple, W. J., P. Smith, H. Haberl, S. A. Montzka, C. McAlpine & D. H. Boucher (2014) Ruminants, climate change and climate policy, Nature Climate Change 4:2-5.