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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

A large share of climate impacts of beef and dairy can be attributed to ecosystem services other than food production

von Greyerz, K.; Tidaker, P.; Karlsson, J. O.; Roos, E.

Abstract

Domesticated ruminants supply nutrient-dense foods but at a large environmental cost. However, many ruminant production systems are multi-functional, providing ecosystem services (ES) other than direct provision of food. When quantifying the climate impact of ruminant products using life cycle assessment (LCA), provisioning ES (i. e. beef and milk) are generally considered the only valuable outputs and other ES provided are ignored, which risks overlooking positive contributions associated with ruminant production. Non-provisioning ES can be included in LCA by economic allocation, using compensatory payments (through agri-environmental schemes) as a proxy for the economic value of ES. For example, farmers can receive payments for maintenance of pastures, which supports e.g. pollination. However, the association between different payment schemes, the ES provided, and livestock production is not always straightforward and it can be difficult to determine which payment schemes to include in the allocation. This study examined how accounting for ES in quantification of climate impact for beef and milk production on Swedish farms was affected by different ways of coupling ES to livestock production through payment schemes. Quantification was done using LCA, attributing the climate impact to beef, milk, and other ES by economic allocation. This resulted in <1-48% and 11-31% of climate impacts being allocated to other ES, instead of beef and milk, respectively, affecting suckler farms most. The results were influenced by which payment schemes, representing different ES, that were included; when only payments directly related to livestock rearing were included, the difference in the climate impact was still large between farm types, while the difference decreased considerably when all environmental schemes were included. While emissions do not disappear, ES-corrected climate impact can potentially be useful as part of consumer communication or in decision-making, reducing the risk of overlooking ES provided by ruminant production in a simpler way than using separate indicators.

Keywords

Life cycle assessment; Multi-functionality; Climate impact; Economic allocation; Cattle

Published in

Journal of Environmental Management
2023, volume: 325, number: Part A, article number: 116400
Publisher: ACADEMIC PRESS LTD- ELSEVIER SCIENCE LTD

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

Publication Identifiers

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.116400

URI (permanent link to this page)

https://res.slu.se/id/publ/119916