Climatic Change

, Volume 115, Issue 3, pp 559-577

First online:

Estimating greenhouse gas emissions from cattle raising in Brazil

  • Mercedes M. C. BustamanteAffiliated withDepartamento de Ecologia, Universidade de Brasília Email author 
  • , Carlos A. NobreAffiliated withInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais
  • , Roberto SmeraldiAffiliated withAmigos da Terra-Amazônia Brasileira
  • , Ana P. D. AguiarAffiliated withInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais
  • , Luis G. BarioniAffiliated withLaboratório de Matemática Computacional, Embrapa Informática Agropecuária
  • , Laerte G. FerreiraAffiliated withLaboratório de Processamento de Imagens e Geoprocessamento, Universidade Federal de Goiás
  • , Karla LongoAffiliated withInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais
  • , Peter MayAffiliated withAmigos da Terra-Amazônia Brasileira
  • , Alexandre S. PintoAffiliated withDepartamento de Ecologia, Universidade de Brasília
    • , Jean P. H. B. OmettoAffiliated withInstituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais

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The study estimated, for the first time, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cattle raising in Brazil, focusing on the period from 2003 to 2008 and the three principal sources: 1) portion of deforestation resulting in pasture establishment and subsequent burning of felled vegetation; 2) pasture burning; and 3) bovine enteric fermentation. Deforestation for pasture establishment was only considered for the Amazon and Cerrado. Emissions from pasture burning and enteric fermentation were accounted for the entire country. The consolidated emissions estimate lies between approximately 813 Mt CO2eq in 2008 (smallest value) and approximately 1,090 Mt CO2eq in 2003 (greatest value). The total emissions associated with Amazon cattle ranching ranged from 499 to 775 Mt CO2eq, that of the Cerrado from 229 to 231 Mt CO2eq, and that of the rest of the country between 84 and 87 Mt CO2eq. The full set of emissions originating from cattle raising is responsible for approximately half of all Brazilian emissions (estimated to be approximately 1,055 Mt CO2eq in 2005), even without considering cattle related sources not explicitly estimated in this study, such as energy use for transport and refrigeration along the beef and derivatives supply chain. The potential for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions offered by the Brazilian cattle industry is very high and might constitute Brazil’s most important opportunity for emissions mitigation. The study offers a series of policy recommendations for mitigation that can be implemented by public and private administrators at a low cost relative to other greenhouse gas reduction options.