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Major Villain, Livestock Source of 50% of Brazil’s Greenhouse

Brazilian cattle A study still to be published in a scientific journal shows that half of the emissions of greenhouse gases in Brazil is caused by livestock. The largest contribution comes from deforestation for new pastures in the Amazon, which represents 75% of total deforestation.

The study by 10 Brazilian scientists shows that greenhouse gas emissions from cattle between 2003 and 2008 for the Amazon and Cerrado biomes range from at least 813 million tons of CO2 equivalent in 2008 (lower value) and at least 1.090 gigatons of CO2e in 2003 (higher value).

The total emission associated with cattle breeding in the Amazon varies between 499 and 775 million tons of CO2e, and in the Cerrado, between 229 and 231 million tons of CO2e. In other Brazilian regions, emissions of the sector vary between 84 and 87 million tons of CO2e. Overall, the numbers represent almost half of the emissions of greenhouse gases in Brazil.

"Recent Estimates of Emissions of Greenhouse Gases by Livestock in Brazil" is the first study that calculated emissions from livestock in the country. Presented this Thursday (December 10) during a workshop at the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in São José dos Campos (São Paulo state), the study was coordinated by Carlos Nobre (INPE).

The other scientists who contributed are Mercedes Bustamante (UnB), Roberto Smeraldi (Friends of the Earth – Brazilian Amazon), Alexandre de Siqueira Pinto (University of Brasí­lia – UnB), Ana Paula Dutra de Aguiar (INPE), Jean P.H. Ometto (INPE), Karla Longo (INPE), Laerte Guimarães Ferreira (Federal University of Goiás – UFG), Luis Gustavo Barioni (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation – EMBRAPA) and Peter May (Friends of the Earth – Brazilian Amazon).

According to the study, which will be released at the Climate Conference in Copenhagen on December 12, the greatest contribution to the emissions of livestock is due to deforestation for the formation of new pastures in the Amazon, which averages 3/4 of total deforestation in this biome.

In the Cerrado, the researchers found that 56.5% of deforestation in the period resulted in the creation of new pastures. The contribution of livestock to the total emissions in Brazil may reach about 50%, as it happened in 2005. Moreover, in years of less deforestation, the relative contribution of livestock to total emissions decrease proportionally.

The three main sources of emissions were analyzed: deforestation for pasture formation and subsequent burning of vegetation cleared, pasture burning and livestock enteric fermentation. The study, however, hasn't considered emissions from soils of degraded pastures, the production of feed grains used for livestock, the transportation of livestock and meat, and the meat packers, which makes the values "conservative," according to the researchers.

The findings also point to the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by farming in Brazil. The fact that almost 50% of Brazil's total emissions of greenhouse gases come from a single sector makes if much easier for Brazil to find a solution for the problem.

"Farming is at the heart of global environmental change both for their contribution to emissions and the fact that one of the most significant ways global climate change will affect the economy is through its effects on agriculture," said Mercedes Bustamante,  research coordinator.

The study offers a series of recommendations on mitigation policies that can be used by the public and private sector. Most of these policies offer opportunities to not only mitigate climate change but also achieve additional social, economic and environmental benefits.

"Brazil should move to a scientific and technological agriculture integrated to tropical environments, which, while increasing its efficiency, reduces its environmental impact, including on emissions," suggests climate scientist Carlos Nobre (INPE), who also coordinated the research.

According to him the mitigation options in the sector are significant and do not involve a cut in current production and still can be compatible with a moderate increase in production. The sources of mitigation, he says, include reducing deforestation, elimination of burning in pasture management, recovery of pastures and degraded soils, regeneration of secondary forest, reduction of enteric fermentation and crop-livestock integration, among others.

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