Global dairy actions on climate change

The dairy industry needs a common language and standard methods and tools to be able to accurately measure dairy's carbon footprint and move forward. Many of these tools and methods are already available. The progress of the dairy industy's work on climate changes issues were presented at the International Dairy Federation's World Dairy Summit in New Zealand.

Challenges and opportunities

“We get challenged as an industry, for potentially degrading the environment, but we have actually got a great product that sustains life, so we need to get the balance right“ said Brian Lindsay, Chair of the IDF Standing Committee on Environment at the IDF World Dairy Summit in November 2010. But he did not see the pressure on the industry as a challenge only:

“I see this as an opportunity where we can work collaboratively to understand the issues we are challenged with, the science, and build the tools for our industry. We need to develop a broad spectre of tools and knowledge.”

Global dairy agenda for Action

At the IDF World Dairy Summit in Berlin in 2009, a Global Dairy Agenda for Action was signed. This was the industry’s commitment to making a positive contribution to global action to address climate change.

The purpose of the Agenda for Action is to develop a standard methodology for assessing the carbon footprint of milk and dairy products based on robust science, promote use of best practises, support development of tools to measure and monitor emissions, both on-farm and processing, promote the dairy farmers’ understanding of GHG emissions on-farm, and opportunities to reduce them, support the sharing of information and aligning of research globally to develop cost effective mitigation technologies for both on farm and manufacturing application.

Key achievements

One year later, at the 2010 World Dairy Summit in New Zealand, Brian Lindsay presented the progress of the industry’s work. He mentioned two key achievements during the last year:

1) Involvement in the disaggregation by FAO of the Livestock’s Long Shadow report into the respective species, resulting in the report Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Dairy Sector

The objective of this study was to develop a methodology based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach applicable to the global dairy sector, and to apply this methodology to assess the GHG emissions from the dairy cattle sector.

The main findings from the report were that

  • the global dairy sector (incl. meat) contributes 4.0% (3.0-5.1) to global anthropogenic* GHG emissions, out of the 18% contribution from the whole livestock sector. (*derived from human activities)
  • milk and dairy products is estimated to 2.7% (2.0-3.5) of anthropogenic GHG emissions.
  • the average carbon foot-print per kg milk at farm-gate is estimated at 2.4 (1.8-3.0) kg CO2e (incl. processing, transport), but there are large regional variations!

FAO drew the following conclusions:

  • There is a large variation in GHG emissions per kg milk between different world regions.
  • Emissions from milk and beef production need to be addressed in an integrated approach.
  • Animal protein (milk+meat) from dairy systems is an efficient meat production system
  • Feed digestibility, milk yield and manure management are key factors influencing emission level.

2) A common LCA Methodology for Dairy

After a more than 16 months long effort, with a multi disciplinary Action Team that has reviewed existing methodologies and engaged with other related sectors and initiatives, the International Dairy Federation (IDF) has published ‘A Common Carbon Footprint Approach for Dairy: The IDF Guide to Standard Lifecycle Assessment Methodology for the Dairy Sector’. Freely available on the web site.

With the publication of this Guide, stakeholders in the dairy sector worldwide will be able to measure and monitor the carbon footprint of their operations using an agreed coherent and consistent methodology based on Life Cycle Analysis (LCA).

The Guide will facilitate comparisons among operations on a global scale. Being able to robustly and reliably monitor carbon emissions will enable users of the Guide to manage change effectively and to quantify their success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are also helping farmers and the processing industry and others to understand the impact of climate change on our systems, so we can manage production in a changing environment.”

Sharing knowledge and best practices

The IDF has also published a report called Environmental Issues at Farm Level, a combination of research and activities. The report provides an overall review of the interaction between milk production and the environment and possible measures to minimize the impact of each on the other, and illustrate the practical steps that can be and are being taken by the dairy sector in a variety of countries and in relation to specific environmental issues: air quality, soil quality, water quality, energy use, pesticide residues.

A Green Paper has been created to share best practise and to facilitate consumer understanding. This Green Paper catalogues online initiatives illustrating the continuous improvements already made and in progress along the whole of the dairy supply chain. The Green Paper has 330 initiatives catalogued under six primary areas:

  • Emission reductions
  • Energy efficiency
  • Transport efficiency
  • Reduction in loss of milk
  • Resource efficiency
  • Life Cycle Assessment and management

"Now that we are starting to talk the same language and to use the same methodology, we are able to move forward" concluded Brian Lindsay.


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Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
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World Dairy Summit 2010 web site