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How necessary and feasible are reductions of methane emissions from livestock to support stringent temperature goals?

Agriculture is the largest single source of global anthropogenic methane (CH4) emissions, with ruminants the dominant contributor. Livestock CH4 emissions are projected to grow another 30% by 2050 under current policies, yet few countries have set targets or are implementing policies to reduce emissions in absolute terms. The reason for this limited ambition may be linked not only to the underpinning role of livestock for nutrition and livelihoods in many countries but also diverging perspectives on the importance of mitigating these emissions, given the short atmospheric lifetime of CH4. Here, we show that in mitigation pathways that limit warming to 1.5°C, which include cost-effective reductions from all emission sources, the contribution of future livestock CH4 emissions to global warming in 2050 is about one-third of that from future net carbon dioxide emissions. Future livestock CH4 emissions, therefore, significantly constrain the remaining carbon budget and the ability to meet stringent temperature limits. We review options to address livestock CH4 emissions through more efficient production, technological advances and demand-side changes, and their interactions with land-based carbon sequestration. We conclude that bringing livestock into mainstream mitigation policies, while recognizing their unique social, cultural and economic roles, would make an important contribution towards reaching the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement and is vital for a limit of 1.5°C.

2021, Royal Society

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