Dairy in a net-zero world

The net zero carbon ambition strives to eliminate GHG emissions by 2050

Agriculture emitted 22% (29% if you count whole supply chains) of global emissions in 2019, of which livestock was a major contributor.

The global dairy sector is a large agricultural carbon emitter. Within dairy supply chains – depending in how much detail they are measured – farm operations contribute the great majority of Co2e emissions, largely as enteric methane (burps) or in manure and feed supplied.

The net zero mission has seen a lot of focus and debate on the comparative emissions intensity of different countries and farming systems – debate as to the best way to measure that impact, and which producers have the lowest intensity – but these debates distract from the massive challenge of reducing dairy’s absolute emissions.

GHG emissions will be measured by country, sector and supply chain.

The global dairy industry signed up to the net zero initiative, while major processors and brand owners have set emission reduction targets for 2030 on the way to net zero by 2050 – with varying degrees of challenge. While emissions in processing, transport and retail will likely be mitigated and even earn credits in the medium term, despite a rush of innovations in feed types, and genetic development, it is highly improbable that most dairy farming systems can eliminate emissions. Large unknowns regarding the scope for uniform treatment of soil carbon and the debates over different treatments of GHGs remain unsolved.

Carbon market development creates vast opportunities, not limited to commercial and scientific innovation, from farm inputs all the way to the consumer’s table. These are likely to take form in nature-based and engineered GHG-avoidance and removal with varying incentives.

Emissions will be allowable with the assignment or purchase of credits, priced through emissions trading systems that are now expanding in relevance.

What does this impact?

The pressure to reduce emissions on farm through changes to production systems and the imposition of cost will inevitably put downward pressure on milk production.  Our LongView scenarios cater for this to be modelled through 2035 with consequential impacts on milk and product availability.

This analysis will evolve. The impact of differing carbon values assigned to milk and dairy production is likely to impact trade and competitiveness of exporters.