Summary and Principal Conclusions
Estimating Recent Greenhouse Gas Emissions from
Cattle Raising in Brazil
This interdisciplinary study was carried out on the initiative of the following Brazilian
researchers during the past five months: coordination by Mercedes M.C. Bustamante (UnB),
Carlos A. Nobre (INPE) and Roberto Smeraldi (Amigos da Terra – Amazônia Brasileira) and
with the participation of Alexandre de Siqueira Pinto (UnB), Ana Paula Dutra de Aguiar
(INPE), Jean P.H.B. Ometto (INPE), Karla Longo (INPE), Laerte Guimarães Ferreira (UFG),
Luís Gustavo Barioni (EMBRAPA) and Peter May (Amigos da Terra – Amazônia Brasileira).
The conclusions of this study are the exclusive responsibility of the researchers that prepared it and
do not necessarily represent the position of their respective institutions of origin.
The study sought to estimate, for the first time, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with
cattle raising in Brazil, focusing on the period from 2003-2008 and the three principal sources:
1) deforestation for pasture formation and subsequent burning of felled vegetation; 2) pasture
burning; and 3) bovine enteric fermentation. The values presented here should be considered
conservative since the present study did not include other complementary emissions sources,
such as emissions from soils in degraded pastures, those arising from the production of rations
for animal feed and those known as “beyond the farm gate”, principally related to transport of
cattle, of meat and with its primary industrial processing. Deforestation for pasture formation in
other biomes besides the Amazon and Cerrado were also not considered. In cases of emissions
from pasture burning and fermentation data were accounted from the entire country. More
precise data on enteric fermentation were available only for the period 2006-2008.
In the period of analysis of 2003 to 2008, the consolidated emissions estimate varies between
approximately 813 Mton CO2e (million tons of CO2-equivalent) in 2008 (smallest value) and
approximately 1,090 Mton CO2e in 2003 (greatest value). The total emissions associated with
Amazon cattle ranching varied between 499 and 775 Mton CO2e, that of the Cerrado between
229 and 231 Mton CO2e, and that of the rest of the country between 84 and 87 Mton CO2e. All
the values should be considered conservative, for the above reasons. In the light of the most
recent estimates in respect to the total emissions of the country – for example, for 2005, those
of MCT (2009) totaling approximately 2.2 Gton CO2e or that of Cerri et al. (2009) adding up to
around 2 Gton CO2e – it can be observed that the full set of emissions originating from this
activity is responsible for approximately half of Brazilian emissions (estimated to be
approximaitely 1,055 Mton CO2e in 2005), even without considering the sources not explicitly
estimated in this study.
The major contribution to emissions of cattle production activities is due to deforestation for new
pasture formation in the Amazon. This quantification of the fraction of emissions from
deforestation attributable to ranching is one of the novelties introduced by this study, that uses a
series of indicators to determine the percentage of total deforestation that was destined toward
ranching activity. This percentage reaches on average 3/4 of the total deforestation and tends to
increase in years of reduced total deforestation. In the case of the Cerrado, on the other hand,
the study detected that about 56% of deforestation in the period resulted in the implantation of
The potential for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions offered by Brazilian cattle raising is
very high. Representing approximately 50% of the total Brazilian emissions of greenhouse
gases concentrated in a single sector, they thus constitute Brazil’s most important opportunity
for emissions mitigation.
Changing this picture is technically and economically feasible. The study offers a series of policy
recommendations for mitigation that can be implemented by public and private administrators,
acting in their respective spheres of competency. The majority of these policies offer
opportunities to achieve complementary social, economic and environmental benefits additional
to those to be obtained from climate change mitigation alone.
The study will be published over the next few weeks in full, but a summary of the principal
highlights with regard to the methodology, conclusions and recommendations is presented
below, and will also be the object of presentations in two parallel events at the Conference of
the Parties in Copenhagen, both on 12/12: at 3:15 pm (Ideas Marketplace, Agriculture Day,
Faculty of Life Sciences) and at 6:15 pm in the Bella Center (official event).
Brazil has the largest commercial beef cattle herd in the world (over 190 million head in 2006).
Beef cattle production expanded rapidly in Brazil over the past decade, stimulated by trade,
which has grown particularly with emerging markets (Russia is the largest importer), with beef
exports accounting for about 24% of total production in 2006 (CNPC, 2009). According to the
census data (Figure 2), the Brazilian cattle herd has grown steadily, but this growth has been
regionally differentiated. While the historically settled regions (South, Southeast, Northeast)
have stabilized or even declined in absolute herd size, herds in the North (Amazon) and Center-
West (Cerrado) regions have grown rapidly, together with the industrial slaughter capacity.
The main innovation of this study is to estimate in what way and in what measure, change in
vegetation cover and land use change emissions can be attributed to cattle ranching, in the
period from 2003 to 2008.
The estimates presented include the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with:
1. deforestation and subsequent biomass burning in the Amazon and Cerrado;
2. burning for pasture maintenance (CH4 and N2O) in the entire country;
3. bovine enteric fermentation (CH4 and N2O) in the entire country.
This study did not consider the emissions from soils under degraded or poorly managed
pastures, those arising from production of rations used in confined and semi-confined cattle
production systems, as well as from transportation of cattle and meat, and its primary industrial
processing. In the case of soil emissions, they occur over the long term, with progressive
growth. Recent studies (Bustamante and Ferreira, 2009) suggest that, in the Cerrado, this
emission reaches approximately 110 Mg per hectare, over a twenty-year period. For its absolute
quantification it would be necessary to study in greater depth the extent of degraded pastures.
2. Extension of burned areas
The conversion of native areas to pasture causes substantial changes in biogeochemical
processes. In a pioneering fashion, this study estimated, based on satellite imagery, the
extension of burned areas in Brazil and what share of this burning occurred in pastures. Usually,
data on burning is inferred from heat detection imagery. For the period in analysis (2003-2008),
the year 2007 showed the largest area burned, for both the major land cover types in Brazil and
pasture areas; 170,120 km and 18,804 km , respectively. Among biomes, and for all years
considered, the Cerrado, followed by the Amazon, had the highest extent of burned areas, both
in relation to their total areas, as well as for areas converted to pasture.
3. Rate of deforestation for opening of new pastures and resulting emissions in the
For the Cerrado biome, IBAMA indicated a cumulative deforestation of 85,074.87 km from
2003 to 2008. Thus, the total deforested area in the Cerrado is currently 975,636 km or 47.91%
of the total area of the biome. Deforestation rates in the Cerrado varied during the past 15
years. The mean annual deforestation rate from 1994 to 2008 was 16,380 km /year (total
deforested area of 229,332 km ). However, in the period 1994-2002 the rate was 18,031
km /year and decreased to 14,179km /year between 2002-2008. The average rate of
deforestation of the Cerrado to be used to build a trend scenario (1998-2008) is 15,720
km /year (corresponding to 0.77% of the total area of the biome per year).
The study estimated the increase of pasture area in the Cerrado biome for the 2003 – 2008
period at about 48,000 km ; i.e. nearly 56.5% of new clearings in the Cerrado were directly
related to the expansion of cattle ranching. Thus, by 2008, the Cerrado biome had a total of
approximately 594,251 km of cultivated pastures.
For the vegetation formation most typical of the Cerrado biome, the value of carbon used here
for total biomass (above and below ground) was 45.4 tC / ha. Thus, between 2003-2008, the
emissions from deforestation and burning (that result in net emissions of CH4 and N2O) of
Cerrado areas converted to pastures corresponds to 818.9 Mt CO2e, while emissions form
maintenance burning of pastures reached only 0.46 Mton CO2e (this value would be more
expressive to the degree that it were to calculate emission from carbon stocks in soils in
degraded and poorly managed pastures, that will be the object of further research).
4. Estimates of GHG emissions from opening of new pastures and resulting emissions
in the Amazon
Deforestation rates in Amazonia (INPE, 2009) show a reduction trend in the past 4 years,
although the total deforested area in the 2003-2008 period was still high, close to 110.000 km .
Cattle ranching expansion is one of the main drivers of deforestation in Amazonia.
Consequently pasture is the main land cover inside deforested areas, according to the two most
recent agricultural censuses.
The results of the modelling for the present study demonstrate that, even with the decrease of
deforestation rates from 2005 onwards, there is a tendency for pasture to increase its relative
importance as the primary activity responsible for replacing the native vegetation. This might
also reflect the increase of pasture implantation in previously deforested areas.
The emissions of greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4 and N2O) accumulating deforestation and
burning for the formation of pastures from 2003 to 2008 were about 3,416 Mton CO2e. As
observed with the deforestation and pasture area information, the contribution of pasture to the
land use change emissions in the Amazon is substantial, accounting for more than 75%, and
increasing in years of lesser deforestation, which indicates that this new deforestation is taking
place in municipalities in which cattle ranching prevails.
5. Greenhouse gas emissions from the cattle herd
To calculate emissions from animals, the distribution of pastures among biomes and an
estimate of the area in pasture in each biome was obtained for each Brazilian state. The
proportional distribution of pastures per biome in each state was then used as a basis for
attribution of the number of animals and their respective emissions of CH4 and N2O. The latter
emissions estimates were generated state-by-state using a model expressing herd and
nutritional composition developed by Embrapa, for a reference scenario, for the 2006-2008
Emissions of GHG from enteric fermentation related to cattle herd in the Cerrado and the
Amazon correspond to approximately 39% and 24% of the emissions from the total Brazilian
In the case of the Amazon, the annual emissions from enteric fermentation correspond to 10%
(about 57 Mt CO2e/yr) of the emissions from deforestation and burning, while in the Cerrado this
percentage increases to 68% (close to 93 Mt CO2e/yr).
6. Summary Table of Estimates of the Principle Emissions in Mton CO2 equivalent of
Brazilian Cattle Production from Diverse Sources
Biome Process 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Total Deforestation 971.0 951.0 872.0 559.0 532.0 552.0
(718.0) (715.0) (680.0) (438.0) (423.0) (442.0)
related to pasture +
Animal emissions 57.7 57.2 57.4
Emissions from 0.16 0.20 0.25 0.09 0.47 0.10
burning of pastures
241.6 241.6 241.6 241.6 241.6 241.6
+ burning (136.5) (136.5) (136.5) (136.5) (136.5) (136.5)
related to pasture +
Biome Process 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Animal emissions 94.1 91.9 92.2
Emissions from 0.23 0.25 0.19 0.15 0.53 0.34
burning of pastures
Other Animal emissions 87.2 84.3 84.3
Emissions from 0.12 0.06 0.06 0.06 0.10 0.05
burning of pastures
7. Public Policy Recomendations
Findings of this report strengthen the perception of how Brazil's livestock activities provide an
unparallel opportunity for mitigation of GGH emissions. According to various recent multi-
stakeholder dialogues in Brazil, a general consensus emerged that with concerted action it is
now possible to promote both the rehabilitation of degraded land and the spatial intensification
of livestock activities, with higher land productivity. In fact, in the Brazilian proposal for COP15,
for reduction between 0.95 and 1.75 Gton CO2e per year up to 2020, in relation to an emissions
growth scenario following current tendencies (“business as usual”), the emissions reductions
from the agricultural and livestock sector figure prominently and, within them, the integration of
crops-livestock and the recuperation of degraded pastures are considered as the principal
The key challenge is how to avoid that the much needed measures to increase productivity do
not end up generating increased pressure towards further spatial expansion, as well as
displacement of less capital-intensive, smallholder ranching. There is also a consensus on the
fact that policy measures to this end should be coordinated, and mutually supportive, between
public and private sectors, with harmonization of credit and procurement policies.
Finally, it became progressively clear that most of investments needed to this end would also
contribute to increase the economic return of the activity as well as promote job generation,
thereby resulting in economic and social associated with environmental benefits.
Some priority action areas to effectively address the sources of emissions described in this
report are identified in the considerations listed below.
7.1 Recommendations Arising Directly from this Study
1. Mitigation options arising from the sector are significant and do not imply cutting back on
current production. Actually, they can be compatible with a moderate increase in production.
Key mitigation sources include reduction of deforestation, elimination of fire in pasture
management, recuperation of degraded pasture and soils, regeneration of secondary forest,
reduction in enteric fermentation, among others.
2. Substantial investment in quality of pasture and related technologies is essential to all forms
of mitigation: it is a necessary condition, albeit not sufficient alone, for concentrating current
cattle herd in a smaller area, reducing pressure for new spatial expansion, regenerating forests,
recovering degraded pasture, improving the diet of animals among others.
3. Methane emissions by enteric fermentation can be reduced significantly as a result of
increased productivity, including genetic improvement in the herd, use of supplemental rations
and provision of mineral salt, which allow for faster fattening and higher survival rates resulting
in a much shorter lifecycle per head of cattle, in relation to current standards of extensive
ranching. Several technologies with potential for mitigation of greenhouse gases emissions
need further research and development. This would include the development of grass and
legume species with lower emission potential, additives (such as ionophores), propionate
precursors and vaccines.
4. Another key challenge for public policy is related to reducing the expectation of impunity in
the practices of occupation of public land as well as environmental crimes: lack of enforcement
in these areas enables speculative and destructive occupation to outcompete investments in
recuperation of degraded land, reforestation associated with intensification and establishment of
long-term pasture management on existing production units. There are clear links between such
impunity, rampant land speculation and forest degradation, particularly in the Amazon.
5. Since ranching is usually more closely associated with the opening of frontiers, being
frequently displaced by more intensive uses of land, it is important that public policies consider
the leakage of ranching when implementing their sectoral policies towards other activities that –
depending on market conditions – can generate pressure for land.
6. On the international, level, it becomes clear that the establishment of a broad, sustainable
and long-term REDD-Plus approach, including all the forms of forest carbon (avoided
deforestation, conservation of forest stocks and forest and pasture regeneration), could
substantially favor the transition needed to a low carbon livestock sector in Brazil (and in other
countries). Its role should be seen as catalytic in relation to good practices and national
programs, rather than as an exclusive and sufficient solution.
7. Establishment of industrial capacity (large meatpacking plants) needs to be subject to proper
zoning on both territorial and biophysical criteria, since it was a key driver towards uncontrolled
and unprecedented expansion of the ranching activity in the central part of the current decade.
This is a critical government function, not just because zoning regulation implies public policy
intervention but also because most of the financing for this segment comes from state
8. The systematic monitoring, on a frequent basis (annually or less) through remote sensing and
periodic census data collection, of the pasture areas, for both assessing its spatial distribution,
its productivity and cattle occupation, as well as for detecting, at early stages, ongoing
degradation processes is also a crucial aspect of the government’s functions.
9. With respect to science policy, there is needed a major effort on the part of research financing
agencies to support studies focused on the development of technologies of mitigation for
agriculture and livestock production, especially in connection with research networks in the
process of establishment (Rede CLIMA, Rede GEOMA, LBA, Rede Avisar, Rede ComCerrado,
7.2 Other Recommendations Related to the Cattle Productive Chain
10. Measures to increase organization and transparency within the trade chain would facilitate
the adoption of selective remuneration, instead of flat criteria, essential to stimulate and reward
investments on the part of ranchers. Also, the role of retail is critical, since it is the segment
where the largest part of the value is added: adoption of consistent procurement policies can
have a significant impact.
11. However, it is important that procurement policies are based on transparent criteria that duly
target improving the GHG balance of products, not just on negative criteria of exclusion, such as
simple black lists. In addition, procurement policies should be backed by traceability and by
independent, third-party verification or certification.
12. The financial sector should harmonize its policies towards ranchers and towards
meatpackers, so as to facilitate the establishment of low carbon trade chains; on the other hand,
the financial sector might benefit as a result of bundling and underwriting resulting carbon
credits in official or voluntary markets. Carbon benefits should be focused on improving price
conditions at the farm gate and not only at slaughterhouses.
This study received support from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and from
the British Embassy in Brasíllia. We also acknowledge Ms. Zoraida Soeiro, of the Center for
Science on Terrestrial Systems at INPE, for her support toward the realization of working