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Rising meat consumption pushes farming past deforestation as global warming driver

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Agriculture has surpassed deforestation and land use change as a driver of greenhouse gas emissions, argues a paper published in Global Change Biology.

The research, led by Francesco N. Tubiello of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), looked at emissions from all human sources, breaking them into five categories: buildings, energy, industry, transport and “Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses” or AFOLU. Within that last category, the authors disaggregated crop and livestock production from land use, land use change and forestry, concluding that deforestation emissions have fallen by nearly a quarter since the 1990s, while agricultural emissions have climbed by an eighth.

Rising meat and dairy consumption are having an outsized impact on growing agricultural emissions. Global meat production jumped nearly 70 percent between 1990 and 2012, while milk production increased 39 percent and eggs 93 percent.

But emissions from deforestation and farming failed to keep pace with other sectors. Overall the share of AFOLU fell from 29 percent in the 1990s to 21 percent in 2010.

Still deforestation and agriculture are closely linked. The vast majority of forest loss worldwide is caused by conversion to agriculture, especially for commodities like palm oil, cattle, and soy. Peatlands degradation — a source of up to 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in some years &#8212 is also often a product of agriculture.

Forest loss also affects climate beyond carbon emissions, altering precipitation patterns and the albedo or reflectivity of Earth’s surface. The study look solely at emissions data.

Note: the initial post of the article was missing the final two paragraphs due to a technical oversight. Apologies.

CITATION: Francesco Tubiello et al (2015). The contribution of agriculture, forestry and other land use activities to global warming, 1990-2012: Not as high as in the past. Global Change Biology, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12865

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