Increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil if decoupled from deforestation

Nature Climate Change 6, 493-497, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2916

R. Silva, L. Barioni, J. Hall, M. Matsuura, T. Albertini, F. Fernandes, and D. Moran


Recent debate about agricultural greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions mitigation highlights trade-offs inherent in the way we produce and consume food, with increasing scrutiny on emissions-intensive livestock products. While most research has focussed on mitigation through improved productivity, systemic interactions resulting from reduced beef production at regional level are still unexplored. A detailed optimisation model of beef production encompassing pasture degradation and recovery processes, animal and deforestation emissions, soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and upstream lifecycle inventory was developed and parameterized for the Brazilian Cerrado. Economic return was maximized considering two alternative scenarios: Decoupled Livestock Deforestation (DLD), assuming baseline deforestation rates controlled by effective policy; and Coupled Livestock Deforestation (CLD), where shifting beef demand alters deforestation rates. In DLD, reduced consumption actually leads to less productive beef systems, associated with higher emissions intensities and total emissions, while increased production leads to more efficient systems with boosted SOC stocks, reducing both per kg and total emissions. Under CLD, increased production leads to 60% higher emissions than in DLD. The results indicate the extent to which deforestation control contributes to sustainable intensification in Cerrado beef systems, and how alternative life-cycle analytical approaches result in significantly different emission estimates.

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