GDP Bulletin: Feb 2019

Climate Change and the Global Dairy Sector

The global dairy sector is extremely diverse in terms of scale, production systems and geography. Dairy farmers and processors the world over work to produce highly nutritious foods in a sustainable and responsible way to meet the demands of the growing world population. Farmers, more than most, face the impacts of climate change on a regular basis and as such are very aware of the need to act quickly and strategically on environmental issues.

The analysis undertaken by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), calculates green house gas (GHG) emissions from the dairy sector over a 10-year time period. The study highlights the progress that has been achieved and provides guidance on areas where future action should be considered.


The challenge for policy-makers – and for the dairy sector – is how to reduce environmental impacts while continuing to meet society’s needs. Dairy products are a rich source of essential nutrients that contribute to a healthy and nutritious diet. With demand for high-quality animal sourced protein increasing globally, the dairy sector is well placed to contribute to global food security and poverty reduction through the supply of dairy products. In so doing, it is essential that sector growth is sustainable in terms of the environment, public and animal health and welfare and in terms of development, poverty alleviation and social progress.


Global milk production has increased 30%. Growth in milk production has been achieved through increasing milk yields and number of milking cows.


Milk production among regions has shifted considerably, with expansion taking place in the low-and-middle income regions and contracting in some high-income regions.


Fastest growing (milk production) dairy regions over the decade were: SA (4.0%), SSA (3.6%) and WANA (4.5%). Western Europe and North America averaged about 1.5% growth in production.


Emission intensity over the 10 years has reduced by 11% from 2.8 to 2.5 kg CO2eq./kg FPCM.


Due to increased demand for high quality nutrition, total GHG emissions from the dairy sector have increased by about 18%.


Over the 10 year period increase in milk yield per cow has increased by 15% – cows now averaging 2,514 litres/cow per lactation.

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Climate Change and the Global Dairy Sector

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All dairy regions have improved through increased productivity per animal, increasing farm management efficiency and increased feed efficiency.


Over the 10 year period increase in milk yield per cow has increased by 15% – cows now averaging 2,514 litres/cow per lactation.


There is a clear case for immediate and more ambitious action. Dairy farmers are already part of the solution to limit climate change, but there is an urgent need to accelerate and intensify the sector’s response to avoid climate tipping points. While new research and technologies will continue to be developed, many mitigation options are already available and their adoption can be accelerated. Further delaying adoption will result in a greater amount of emissions overall, given that CO2 emissions accumulate in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. Even with implementation of best practice and technologies, it is likely that some residual emissions will remain in the future. The dairy industry will therefore need to also consider how these residual emissions will be offset. Achieving substantial net reductions in GHG emissions from the dairy sector will require action in the three broad areas of

  1. improving efficiencies;
  2. capturing and sequestering carbon; and
  3. better linking dairy production to the circular bio-economy. These three pathways result in the reduction of: [click here to read report]

The Dairy Sector – A Snapshot


1 billion people strong


133 million dairy farms


600 million people living on farms


37 million farms led by women, 80 million women employed in dairying


400 million additional people are supported by the full time jobs that are created in support of dairy farming


240 million people are employed, directly or indirectly, in the dairy sector

This content is partly courtesy of our partners at DSF

Climate Change and the Global Dairy Sector

9 min

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